Psst…Amazon Drone Announcement Actually Reveals Weakness
Amazon’s recent unveiling of its drone project on 60 Minutes is another indicator of how important same-day delivery is to its go-forward strategy. Amazon views its competition as retailers in the mall, and it’s doing everything it can to eliminate any reason to go to the mall. Sunday delivery, locker pickup boxes, and same-day delivery are all moves to close the gap between shopping online with Amazon and brick-and-mortar shopping. To date, Amazon’s version of same-day has been the AM/PM model, where orders run twice a day from a central hub. This model is certainly low cost, but it does not allow for the premium same-day service levels now being offered by eBay, Google, and others who leverage local store inventory. The drone project is an attempt to fill this gap by skipping the AM/PM model and going directly to buyers for faster delivery.
Here’s the rub: the majority of online buyers are in urban areas where drone delivery is unrealistic, since remote-controlled helicopters cannot enter a building, take the elevator, and visit the third floor. And this points to one of Amazon’s weaknesses relative to other retailers. Its lack of forward-deployed storefront inventory prevents it from offering very rapid (one-hour) delivery programs to the masses. Amazon’s rural (Kentucky) and distant suburban (Tracy, California, about 40 miles outside the San Francisco Bay Area) distribution centers are fine for AM/PM same-day programs, but this limits who can be served with one-hour-or-less delivery. Traditional retailers already have local inventory in their stores poised for one-hour delivery of e-commerce orders, something Amazon will never have. If successful, this drone project will allow for one-hour-or-less delivery in close proximity to its distribution centers, but, unfortunately for Amazon, the number of people close enough to benefit is a very small percentage of buyers.
For once, traditional retailers maintain the upper hand when it comes to one-hour delivery, and this drone project, even if successful, will not change that.