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What Would We Buy If Drone Delivery Became a Reality?


Matt Hickey

In December, Amazon stunned the nation by announcing on 60 Minutes that it was developing an aerial drone-based system for almost-instant home delivery. The idea at first seems far-fetched, but the technology behind the program has been around for a while and most of the obstacles that Amazon will have to overcome appear to be regulatory in nature. If Amazon can pull it together it could revolutionize retail as we know it; the idea that we’ll soon be able to impulse buy without having to put on pants is truly what makes this country great. Just ask anyone who’s ever had Chinese food delivered.
 
The Amazon drones won’t be able to deliver everything, of course; there are weight and size restrictions to be taken into consideration, as well as the possibility that some items will be prohibited – I can’t imagine a scenario where the government will allow unmanned vehicles to whiz lighter fluid above people’s heads – but there are plenty of other items that the drones aren’t just suitable for but are downright perfect for.
 
One market segment that jumps to mind at first seems like a rather mundane one, but then, when considered for a moment, suddenly becomes an important one: Mobile accessories. Nearly everyone has at some point needed a phone charger when there’s none around, and if one could dial up their Amazon app and pay a little extra to have one dropped off in less than half an hour, why wouldn’t they do it?
 
These accessories aren’t top shelf items; indeed, it’s a nearly commoditized market, but one that produced worldwide revenue of $1.9 billion last year alone, according to CEA’s own research. That number may seem high, but when one considers that the average cellphone user spends about $60 on aftermarket accessories – chargers, cases, cables, etc. – it makes sense. That market can only be helped by speedy delivery systems like the one Amazon is promising.
 
And then there are the phones themselves. Carriers love offering deals online and it’s not too hard to envision a scenario where a carrier offers a drone delivery special for select customers. If they’re willing to sign up for another two-year contract, they could have their new smartphone in less than 30 minutes. Instant gratification is a great sales tool, and the phone makers know it.
 
But that I-need-it-quick feeling isn’t just for cellphones and their fitments. Most of us use computers, as well, and they also have aftermarket parts that often wind up missing or otherwise need to be replaced. This writer has many USB cables in a box in a closet, as most people do, but finding one at the right time rarely works out. The idea of calling one from the air to save the time of searching seems easily worth the upcharge that Amazon will surely attach; the drones could certainly assist with copying photos from a camera to a computer at crunch time.
 
Cameras themselves could benefit, as well. Memory cards can get full quick as the megapixel counts of average cameras gets higher and higher, and they’re also easy to lose, making the small and lightweight cards a perfect candidate for immediate drone deliveries. They’re also getting cheaper by the month, so the drone delivery premium shouldn’t be much of a sales obstacle.
 
The best part is that many of these items could all be combined into a single order and still be suitable for aerial dispatch. It would make sense for a person to get a second charger, synch cable, and even a memory card with their new phone. Why not package them together into one drone delivery to save a little money? Amazon says that the drones would be able to transport up to about five pounds per trip and it would be hard to imagine a cellphone package like the one described here tipping the scales at over a pound.
 
When people order Chinese food for delivery, they typically take some from column one, some from column two and some from column three; it wouldn’t be hard to imagine ordering a cellphone in the near future would be more or less the same thing. Perhaps Amazon would even throw in a fortune cookie.

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