Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are no longer elements of sci-fi movies, they are real and are quickly gaining in popularity. Online retail giant Amazon took a stance on omnichannel innovation, and sparked our imaginations when they made headlines with intentions to patent a strategy called "anticipatory shipping" and use Amazon drones to make deliveries in 30 minutes.

From security to logistics, to site selection, drones have the potential to aid retailers and enhance the omnichannel experience. The possibilities for how drone technology can be used to deliver to consumers, regardless of industry, are endless.

Drone Sales Then and Now

By the end of 2015, drone sales are expected to exceed 700,000. This is up 63 percent from 2014. This translates to around $103 million in drone sales. When you compare that to the $69 million in total sales from 2014, that’s a pretty big jump. Within five years, drone sales could easily exceed $1 billion. In 2013, drone sales were barely notable so this exponential growth in just two years shows that sales are steadily gaining momentum and will most likely continue to do so. What this rapid proliferation of drone technology in the mainstream means is that drones are poised to becoming a "way of life"- another channel of communication or delivery that we become accustomed to.

Consumers, Businesses, and Experiential Marketing

Today’s tech customer is more sophisticated and informed than most other consumers. According to a 2015 PEW research report, “nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and for many these devices are a key entry point to the online world”. Today's customer has access to reviews, specs, and even company information at the touch of a button and while they're shopping, with 75% of customers using their mobile device while in the store. In many cases, the customer now knows more than the salesperson on the floor about the product they're considering purchasing.

This changes the conversations that businesses are having with their customers from an experiential marketing standpoint as well as from the product’s perspective. Companies need to have an innate understanding of their product and the technology as well as the culture that is buying from them. And they need to communicate this message clearly, seamlessly and across multiple channels - aka omnichannel. Whether it be in the form of flying promotions to consumers' doorsteps or making the shopping or delivery experience more enjoyable for their customers, drones present another opportunity for businesses to interact with their consumers. After all, who wouldn't sign up for a store's loyalty program after they flew your forgotten in-store purchases to you?

Proposed FAA Drone Laws

Another area that businesses should at least have a working knowledge of is the laws that govern the operation of drones. From a business perspective, companies need to identify potential risk areas if they're going to use this technology in their future omnichannel strategy. From a business-to-consumer point-of-view, sellers need to be able to inform their customers of laws.

This increase in drone popularity has also meant an increase in regulations and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is stepping up with some proposed rules for drones that could more clearly define their use. So, don’t expect to have a drone delivering your purchase to your door anytime soon – at least for right now...

The basics of these FAA proposed rules mostly govern handling and use of drones and include:

  • Flight height. Drones must stay below 400 feet and stay clear of any obstacles in the area.
  • Flight near crowds. Drones are prohibited from flying around people, crowds, or stadiums.
  • Clearance. Drones are not allowed in areas where manned aircraft operations are taking place. They are required to be kept far away and never interfere.
  • Responsible drone operation. The careless or reckless operation of a drone could result in fines due to endangering others or aircraft.
  • Visibility. The drone must be visible to the operator, remaining in the line of sight, at all times.
  • Drone weight restrictions. A drone may not exceed 55 pounds in weight.
  • Airport Restrictions. A drone may not fly within 5 miles of an airport. The only exception is if the operator contacts the airport and control tower prior to flight.

Drone Operator Requirements

One significant requirement in the proposed FAA drone laws refers to the drone operator. Under the FAA proposed rules, the operator could not be under 17 years of age. They would also be required to pass an aeronautics test. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would have to vet them before they could fly the drone. The certificate for flying a drone would not be the same as flying a plane; there would be no flight hours requirement or medical rating that are necessary with a private pilot’s license.

The Boom of Innovative Technology

Consumer product businesses can use innovative technology to capture market share by delighting their customers with personalized omnichannel experiences. As consumer culture is turning more and more toward innovative technology, the company that is first to market with a well designed, engineered and thought-out product will not only survive in the marketplace but thrive!

How is innovative technology impacting your business? What types of tech are you looking to incorporate in your omnichannel strategy? What are your expectations forgrowth in the coming year?

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