With the supply chain better but not back to normal and carriers overworked by never-ending “next-day deliveries,” retailers are turning to drone technology as a huge breakthrough when it comes to order fulfillment. So much so, some believe that 2023 will truly be the year that drones as a means of transportation will truly “take off.”
But as it happens, when the retail industry history books are written, 2022 may be remembered as the period in which drone delivery took flight, as two of the country’s largest organizations spent the year staking their place as authorized users.
Last year, Walmart successfully completed thousands of orders that were dropped off via the sky. Indeed, according to a company announcement obtained by Supply Chain Dive, the big box retailer performed 6,000 of them in 2022 across seven states, including Arkansas, home to its corporate offices.
Vik Gopalakrishnan, vice president of innovation and automation for Walmart North America, noted his delight at an historic achievement.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team for creating the largest drone delivery footprint of any U.S. retailer and providing customers with an incredibly fast – and innovative – option for delivery. We’re encouraged by the positive response from customers and look forward to making even more progress in 2023.”
The other states in which drones were deployed for customer delivery were primarily in the South and included Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia. Mountain West customers saw them as well, specifically in Utah and Arizona.
As one of the largest organizations in the world (all companies, not just retail) and with more than 4,700 brick and mortar locations in the U.S., it may not be too surprising that Walmart leveraged this high-end delivery method given its considerable resources. But Walmart is hardly alone when it comes to drones: Entities like FedEx, UPS, DHL and Domino’s Pizza have used drones for delivery either last year or prior to it. Also, even small-business restaurants use drone services for some customers.
Amazon Prime Air introduced in parts of California and Texas
Another major player in drone investment is Amazon. The e-commerce giant announced in June 2022 that it received a go for launch from the Federal Aviation Administration after seeking its approval. That green light herald the creation of Prime Air, a delivery service that uses UAVs to make quick (60 minutes or less) drop-offs to customers who are within sufficient range of a warehouse equipped with drone capability. While Prime Air has not been formally rolled out to all Prime subscribers, it is now available for use in test locations. These include Lockeford, California and College Station, Texas, according to reporting from ARS Technica.
Speaking to KTXL, a FOX TV affiliate in Sacramento, Amazon Air Spokesperson Natalie Bank said these parts of the country will be the first to experience a service the company believes will soon be more widely available.
“We are starting in these communities and will gradually expand deliveries to more customers over time,” Bank said.
Experts say drones for now will only be used to deliver smaller items, such as certain types of food, home supplies and paper goods. According to Walmart, the company sells over 20,000 items that are drone drop-off eligible, each weighing 10 pounds or less.