We live in a shock-and-awe media landscape. Jeff Bezos, the mastermind behind Amazon, did precisely that when he shared plans for a drone-based delivery service that will at some point in the future start bringing packages to your home in about 30 minutes. It was a masterful video demo — shared with 60 Minutes’ Charlie Rose, who obviously was so amazed by the video that he forgot to ask a few important questions.
My takeaway from the video was the following:
- It was less about drones and more about the growing importance of algorithm-augmented retail.
- It is also a pretty broad swipe at all local retail, especially big box retailers such as Walmart, Kmart and Target. Those other guys are fighting to get their services web and mobile ready, while Amazon (s AMZN) is fine-tuning what matters most in digital commerce: supply chain and speed of delivery. Amazon is optimizing its supply chain to go from beyond delivery on the same day to within a few hours, with ultimate ambition of being less than an hour.
- It is thumbing Google (s GOOG) and eBay (s EBAY) in the face, saying, go ahead, experiment all you want with same day delivery. Retail is Amazon’s core business and it is doing whatever it takes to get even more efficient at it.
- I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts using an Uber-like service to start implementing a version of this pretty quickly. Even WalMart is experimenting with crowdsourcing delivery of packages and it makes most logical sense.
- It is a good way to push UPS, FedEx and USPS to come up with new delivery models befitting this new changed retail and consumption landscape.
Having followed Amazon for nearly 15 years — the first five years as a skeptic, then as a believer — I am always impressed by Bezos’ audacity and desire to constantly push the envelope. He sees the importance of things & trends long before everyone else — especially if those trends help Amazon sell more things in a faster, cheaper way. And in nearly 15 years of following the company, I can say it is fairly cautious (and quite secretive) when it comes to revealing its future plans. It is reticent to share details and when it does, much like Apple, it shares its own version of truth and data.
Which leads me to ask the question: Why did Bezos announce Amazon’s plans now, especially when everyone knows that the legislative issues around commercial deployments of drones are as matted and entangled as the hair of someone who walked across Kalahari? Even Bezos, in his chat with Charlie Rose, pointed out that it will be a few years before the rules are modified. (Related reading: A new Babylon and rise of the tech tycoon.)
There are many theories — for instance, this is a way to put pressure on the FAA (very plausible.) There are many legal issues around drones, and I think being pre-emptive isn’t such a bad strategy. Others might think that Amazon is trying to get a lot more holiday mindshare (not that it needs it) or just that it wants to divert attention from some possible future bad news? What is your take?
PS: Lot of responses to this on my Twitter feed. Here are some of them:
@om (1) ultimate plug for magic/brand of Amazon Prime, (2) jolts FAA into acceptance, (3) dominates media eve of cyber-Monday. Brilliant.
— Scott Belsky (@scottbelsky) December 2, 2013
@om to counter the rising disgust with the way it treats warehouse staff, maybe?
— Lee Bryant (@leebryant) December 2, 2013
@om Ask yourself what Amazon story you’d be writing if not for the drone story. Working conditions?
— Mike Monteiro (@monteiro) December 2, 2013
@om bypass physical infrastructure, skip straight to “roadless.” Light delivery drones are akin to 2G wireless data on the technology curve.
— Randy Reddig (@rr) December 2, 2013
@om the future of transport is automated flight. Regulatory + public opinion are the biggest hurdles, not technology.
— Randy Reddig (@rr) December 2, 2013