Amazon Drone Trials Are More Hot Air Than Prime Air

It would surely be foolish to call out Amazon Go and Amazon Prime Air in the same week, wouldn't it? Who would bet against Amazon in anything retail-related? Well, to be honest, I would.

Amazon Go looks like an invitation for shoplifters to go on a thieving spree and to take the human element out of high street shopping. On the face of it, however, Amazon Prime Air sounds like a great idea. Who wouldn't want a drone to drop in the back garden with a bunch of items? I honestly doubt, however, that it will ever come to people being offered the chance.

The Air service is being trialled in Cambridgeshire because of the range of the drones in question. Put simply, battery life means they are restricted to half-hour flights around Amazon's Cambridgeshire base. So that's a cross rather than a tick against the service right from the start.

The second point may well be who truly needs something right there and then to be flown out to them. In our household, that would invariably mean an onion or a stick of lemongrass for tonight's meal that wasn't replaced since the last Thai green curry was cooked. It's easily answered by popping to the nearest co-op. Would firing up an app and ordering an onion through Amazon really be quicker, when a guy needs to go and find the item, attach it to a drone and get it flown over? As for the cost, less than a pound of petrol or some good old-fashioned walking can't compare with the labour and maintenance involved with picking items in a hurry and flying them to an address.

I don't want to sound like a cynic, but here you go. Everyone must surely be wondering how Amazon expects its drones to come back. They are going to have to be incredibly careful whom the drones are sent out to. It just sounds too easy for thieves to hoodwink a drone to drop off a very cheap item before you pounce and steal it, doesn't it? 

And who's going to pay for the delivery? I obviously have no data on the cost of a drone service, compared to the postman. I'd hazard a guess, though, that an individual service like Prime Air has to be more expensive than an item being one of many thousands shipped off to the Royal Mail for delivery en masse. If it is more expensive, who's going to pay? Amazon Prime retailers already have to factor in the cost of delivery to the prices they charge for goods -- that's pretty much the way Amazon works. It takes £60 a year from you, its retailers absorb the cost of delivery.

Would Amazon put the annual subscription for Air up substantially to pay for the service? If so, customers would likely rail against the extra cost for the thrill of having a drone very occasionally bring over an item they simply have to have by lunchtime. If it's going to be added to the cost of an item as an extra delivery charge, would people pay, beyond maybe for the occasional bit of fun to see what happens?

You can see parents wanting to fly in a birthday gift to arrive while the kids are playing in the garden, can't you? But as an everyday delivery means, I'm not so sure. If the extra delivery charge were to be swallowed by retailers, there's no way it could work because they'd have to put up prices on Prime Air, compared to Prime, which would be effectively the same as charging a delivery fee.

So the billing is going to be a nightmare, and I can't see how it can be hidden from users. It will surely have to be a box they tick and then expect to pay more, either for an annual subscription or a delivery at a time. When Amazon's all about getting the best price for a next-day delivery, will they pay extra for same day via drone delivery? I'm not so sure.

A final point is an obvious one, but it's worth making. What about people who don't have gardens for the drones to land in? That would pretty much rule out the majority of people in the centre of a major town, surely? And if the drones can only fly for half an hour, is Amazon going to set up a bunch of drone delivery hubs to cover most or all of the country? If so, how's the stuff going to get there? Wouldn't it be better for the driver to carry on driving and take it to the customer's front door? Like they do now?

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