Wing is bullish on the potential of drone delivery for retailers in general and for its test partnership with Walmart in particular.
Shannon Nash, CFO of Wing, the on-demand drone delivery provider powered by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently spoke with Chain Store Age about the latest developments in drone-based fulfillment, as well as Wing’s collaborative pilot with Walmart.
What are the leading trends in drone delivery?
First of all, drone delivery is not science fiction. It’s not ‘The Jetsons.’ It's real. But with Wing, there isn’t somebody with a joystick standing outside steering a drone to a customer’s house. Our technology is completely autonomous.
This means our drones can be operated from a remote location. The pilots are in locations looking at the airspace, not driving the drone, and they're not co-located with where the drones are. Some of them are thousands of miles away.
How does Wing’s delivery partnership with Walmart work?
We are introducing drone delivery at Walmart supercenters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Since our drones fly beyond the visual line of sight, our drone delivery service available to customers living within approximately six miles of each local Walmart store, covering roughly about 60,000 homes.
To participate, customers can download the Wing app, enter their address and see if their home is within the delivery zone. If it is, the drone delivery assortment has over 1,000 items they can choose from – common products like eggs. Then they go to checkout. Customers are used to doing this with their apps so there's an ease of use.
How can drone delivery help retailers handle holiday order volumes?
Customers expect delivery fast. In most cases, Wing is fulfilling orders with drones in 30 minutes or less. Our drones go about 65 miles an hour, and our fastest delivery to date was completed in less than three minutes. I think speed is a big component of why drone delivery can help retailers handle the volume of Black Friday- and Cyber Monday-type of deliveries.
What do you see as the emerging drone delivery trends for 2024?
We think more people will be getting access to drone delivery and enjoying the convenience of it. And Wing has two exciting things that we're working on for 2024.
One we call the Wing delivery network. As we scale to more stores and are able to provide our service to more homes, we are developing a network where our drones can go around the city they don't have to go back to where they originally started.
It’s like a rideshare service where the cars are just around and the system matches the proper car to your house. It's not like the cars are sitting in a lot. Same with the drones, which may make a delivery to a home and instead of going all the way back to the first store, it will go to another store close to the customer placing the new order, charge up and get the package delivered to them.
We believe this is going to be transformational in terms of efficiency, speed, safety and sustainability as we scale operations. The second thing is that we have developed a piece of equipment we call an auto loader that lets a store associate place products for a drone delivery on it and leave them for the drone, which picks up the package for delivery.
It's designed to mimic the curbside pickup fulfillment process. We think it's more efficient because the wait time is decreased and will also be transformational to the drone delivery process.