Retailers have upped the ante by enabling consumers to shop online anywhere and at any time that suits them. They are now looking at lifting the bar and becoming more innovative in how they get their products into customers’ hands as quickly and conveniently as possible.  
Traditionally used for military and academic purposes, drones are poised to shake up retail product delivery as soon as their safety and regulatory issues are sorted out.

In preparation, Amazon has launched Prime Air, which it says will get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using drones. Ahead of regulatory approval, it is currently testing components, designs and configurations in development centres in the US, UK and Israel.

Also moving into the fray is Wal-Mart, which in October applied to US regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, pavement pickups and checking warehouse inventories. According to a Reuters report, the world's largest retailer by revenue has been conducting indoor tests on small drones made by China's SZ DJI Technology Co for several months and now wants to test them outdoors.

Closer to home, Australian drone start-up Flirtey and Zookal, a Sydney-based textbook rental company, have been testing drones for textbook delivery. Flirtey has partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno, and is currently doing research and development in the US.

Look forward to mailbox-sized drone ports outside your home and in busy places and lunch being delivered on the beach or at work within minutes of being ordered by busy buzzing drones.

3D product printing

Depending on their makeup and the availability of inputs, products ordered by online shoppers could soon be “printed” by a 3D printer at the customer’s home or a location close by, such as the post office.

Amazon has already filed for patents on a system that would use truck-based 3D printers to quickly deliver customers’ bespoke orders, assuming they’re able to be 3D-printed. Using pre-packaged digital instructions for printing each item, Amazon’s system could manufacture a product on request using 3D printers inside the delivery truck while, at the same time, transporting the product to the customer, in a move that would also decrease the warehouse and inventory storage space needed.

P2P deliveries

Peer-to-peer delivery is taking off. Already big in Scandinavia and the US, this type of model involves ordinary members of the public carrying packages like part-time couriers.

In the US, in line with the “Uber-fication” of everything, Uber has launched Uber Rush to transport goods. It allows users to hail a courier from within its app, like you would a regular Uber taxi, and track the messenger as they approached.

There’s also start-up Roadie’s mobile app, which describes itself as “the first neighbour-to-neighbour delivery network”. “When you have something you need to send, just create a Gig in the Roadie app. We’ll match you with a Roadie driver who’s headed in the right direction. It’s like carpooling for cargo,” Roadie says on its website.

Easy pickups

Online retailers are also increasing use of established bricks and mortar for quick and easy pickups of their products at centralised locations.

This kind of activity is already taking off.

Melbourne’s new Eastland centre, for example, has partnered with several online companies with no physical presence in the centre, allowing them to use it as a collection point. “When they collect the purchase, they can try it on in a change room and if they don’t like it, they can simply return it to the service team which will take over the back end for them,” says centre manager, Steve Edgerton.  

What’s next? Instant product teleportation? Our imagination is our only limit.
This article represents the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BPAY.
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