Drones and the Future of Retail Delivery in Canada: Experts Comment

We’re hearing a lot about the use of drones lately in the retail landscape and the prospect is good that the trend will continue in the future as they become more popular for both retailers and consumers.

Gary Newbury, a retail supply chain strategist and serial transformation executive, said the use of drones in retail distribution is a very rarefied field right now but it is a positive trend due to its potential efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Drone Delivery Efficient & Cost-Effective

Gary Newbury
Gary Newbury

The challenge in the future is to have people accept the possibility of drones flying around in populated areas as their application moves eventually to dropping off packages at people’s homes.

“The city folk might go no, I don’t like this. So retailers, the aviation industry, drone manufacturers, etc., have to do a big charm offensive to actually get drones into ways that we think of the world going forward. Maybe the pandemic and the surge to ecommerce may be just the trigger that people become more acceptable to seeing things flying around in the sky. We’re talking about maybe 50 to 70 feet up.”

But in the meantime, the use of drones to more remote locations seems to be a natural.

“And it will be primarily based on trend to access typically for ecomm sales – trying to access remote and rural communities with perhaps a more cost effective or frequent service than a truck doing the thing and an old transportation system,” said Newbury.

“Everybody gets that picture in their head and the question is how do you get the drone to that place in the most effective way.

“In terms of urban, suburban, high-density, downtown Toronto or downtown Calgary, I would like to see that happen but I don’t think I’m going to see it in my lifetime unless something big changes. It’s people’s perception of having these little ants flying around in the sky delivering lots of small packages. I’ve seen some very interesting videos on how maneuverable these drones are using guided vision cameras.”

Susceptibility to Weather Means Potential Challenges for Drone Delivery

The big issue for Newbury in the use of drones is weather related and the impact for example of adverse weather conditions on the transportation of the cargo and package.

Michael Zahra, President and CEO of Toronto-based Drone Delivery Canada, said drones can be used in a variety of ways and for various industries including ecommerce companies and even groceries.

Michael Zahra
Michael Zahra

“Literally it could be anything,” he said.

In terms of retail, “we’re having lots of discussions and we have a number of opportunities fairly far along in our sales funnel for a number of retail opportunities. I can’t mention any names of course. But there’s some very large well-known retailers. In the pharmacy business. In the grocery business. General ecommerce.”

Zahra said currently there isn’t anyone doing home deliveries on a large scale. Most of the applications where home delivery is involved are pilot projects or demonstrations.

The retail market can be broken down into two categories – business to business and business to consumer. Today it’s mostly B2B in rural, remote or suburban applications.

“We’re going from warehouse to warehouse. Maybe warehouse to store. Floor replenishment. These sort of applications that would benefit the consumer but it’s still B2B. In the future, and the technology can do it today, it’s more regulatory restriction. There really isn’t a lot of retail store to consumer going on.”

Once restrictions relax over time to allow for a greater range of opportunity to fly in denser areas that will open the door for using drones to deliver packages from retailers to consumers’ residential addresses.

Philip Reece
Philip Reece

“It’s easily a good year away,” said Zahra.

Philip Reece, CEO and founder of InDro Robotics which is based in Saltspring, Island, said the company uses drones in a number of different industries including retail.

The company was founded in 2014. Reece was the former owner of a small airline flying in and out of Vancouver 16 times a day with four aircraft.

“I recognized that drones were on the rise. So I sold my airline to Harbour Air, which is still going. The largest seaplane company in the world and launched into the drones,” said Reece.

“We purposely did something a little different. We became an airline that flew through drones rather than a drone company.”

The company has worked with London Drugs delivering prescription medications directly to homes.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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