OK, but what about in-store drone delivery?

Mar 09, 2015
Tom Ryan

If drone delivery of packages to homes are far from passing the muster of legislators, how about drone delivery to shoppers in stores? A temporary Crocs store in Tokyo this past weekend tested the delivery of purchases to in-store shoppers.

Described by New York’s Daily News as a "life-size shoe vending machine," the "Flying Norlin Project," which was open from Mar. 5 to 8 at Tokyo Midtown, enabled guests to use one of the store’s iPads to first select a color and size of one of the brand’s new Norlin sneakers. Touching the "take off" button prompted a drone to find the shoes from a large aerial display and then deliver them directly to the shopper. Using magnets to pick up the shoes, the custom-built flyers could handle up to 600 grams (21 oz.)

[Image: Flying Norlin Project]

"We believe this is the first store in the world to make use of drones this way," a spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal.

Conceptual engineering and design teams Birdman and Enjin assisted on the project.

With reports indicating that drones periodically failed to deliver shoes to the right customers, the event was seen more as a marketing event to showcase the lightweight nature of the new shoes as well as to celebrate Crocs’ tenth anniversary in Japan. Crocs doesn’t have any plans to bring drones to its other stores.

"It’s more about the spectacle of the delivery than the product, arguably," wrote Mat Smith on engadget.com.

Using drone fascination to drum up some attention is also apparently behind McDonald’s decision to host three sessions on Mar. 13 at the South By Southwest festival in Austin to encourage young entrepreneurs to "obsolete" door-to-door and drive-through delivery. The fast food chain pitch reads, "Imagine a world where drones could deliver you food while you’re driving down the highway. Seems crazy now, but technology is increasingly revolutionizing our everyday lives."

With drone videos going viral, interest in the technology has gone well beyond tech geeks. According to the Walker Sands 2015 Future of Retail Study, two-thirds of consumers expect to receive their first drone-delivered package in the next five years. Nearly 80 percent are willing to pay for it.

In mid-February, however, Federal Aviation Administration’s updated guidelines arrived that reportedly put any hope of drone deliveries from Amazon, Google and others more than a few years away. The rules require drones to be in sight of the operator, fly only during daylight and away from crowded places.

Is the near-term value in drones more around marketing or in-store entertainment? In what other ways might stores capitalize on the current fascination over drones?

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8 Comments on "OK, but what about in-store drone delivery?"

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Jason Goldberg
5 years 7 months ago

We’ve had in-store drone delivery in the US for years. It’s called B&H Photo.


Chris Petersen, PhD.
5 years 7 months ago

Drones definitely fit in the marketing/entertainment category at the present point in time. Consumers are intrigued and reportedly willing to pay something for “drone delivery.”

Anything that gets customers into the store can’t be all bad! And the best part of this Crocs pop-up store was that someone actually had to make a purchase in order to see the drones fly.

The reality of drones widely available right now is that they can’t carry much weight, and would be limited to very lightweight product delivery. But in the near future there will be drones capable of delivering a wide range of products. Drone delivery of fast food is certainly a possibility.

Instead of inside the store, a more useful immediate drone application would be to deliver store purchases to the customer waiting outside for pickup at their vehicle in a parking lot.

Ken Lonyai
5 years 7 months ago

Having designed retail merchandising systems that use interactive fragrance, interactive taste and more, the question that always comes up is “Isn’t that just a gimmick?” We’ve always answered “No, but what’s wrong with a gimmick?”. In this example of in-store drones, it’s pretty much a marketing gimmick, but in the short-term, as a hype generator that drives traffic, what’s wrong with that?

Beyond the hype, I can’t think of a practical use for in-store drones, especially given the risks if they were to crash into someone, especially a child. A few more stores can probably jump on a similar idea for some media attention, but once the word gets around, I doubt many shoppers will care.

Gordon Arnold
5 years 7 months ago

To many liability potentials for this to become a near-term viable solution for lower delivery costs. Transportation is all about costs, safety, reliability and tracking. The devices known as drones are below acceptable standard levels for all of these parameters at this point in time with no window of availability beyond storytelling and wishful thinking.

W. Frank Dell II
5 years 7 months ago

Purely in-store entertainment. Except for some of the government drones, they do not have lifting capacity to deliver much. Furthermore the quality built into the drones is not sufficient for safety or long term use. I see drones as outside products, not inside. Unless a store is bigger than a football field there are limited applications.

Ed Dunn
5 years 7 months ago

This could work if the drones are attached to a safety wire similar to trapeze artists—there is no need for free range flight. Think of a huge octopus with tentacles, but the drones are tethered to move about and not interfere with the airway of another drone. Silly ideas like this actually inspire better design down the road.

John Karolefski
5 years 7 months ago

I can see a drone flying around a Dick’s Sporting Goods store and some customer smacking it with a baseball bat. Folks, we are entering the bizarre world of the Twilight Zone 2.0.

Jeff Hall
5 years 7 months ago

With 80 percent of those taking today’s poll indicating drones are more important as a marketing tool, the use of in-store delivery confirms the use of drones as a new entertainment medium. If a consumer is already in-store, how does drone delivery add, if at all, to the purchase convenience? It’s more about the wow factor, which I’d bet would soon become passé.


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