Talk about multichannel – the drones are coming

Ecommerce is about the customer experience. Can the customer get what they want, when they want it? News that the US is one step closer to drone deliveries just means a wider set of options.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a framework of regulations around the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), reviving the possibility of using drones to facilitate deliveries. It’s no longer the realm of science fiction, but rather another option to trial when serving the customer.

It doesn’t mean that ecommerce is going to change overnight. But the challenges found by retailers attempting to serve customers in China outside its largest cities highlight the fact that different markets have different needs, just as different customers have different wants. Changing market dynamics mean that retailers must constantly be thinking ahead of the curve.

In 2014, Amazon announced plans for a drone delivery service that would get packages to customers within 30 minutes. Given that the US doesn’t allow for the commercial use of drones yet, the company is certainly planning ahead. The FAA’s proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations.

The new framework state that pilots must remain within eyesight of their unmanned crafts, although the FAA said it would consider factoring in a second line of sight in some cases. Pilots must also be FAA certified to operate these drones. While this doesn’t allow for Amazon to launch its Amazon Air delivery service, it’s certainly one step further towards the possibility.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Yet it’s possible that China will be leapfrogging the US in terms of innovative approaches to the digital world. Early 2015 saw Alibaba Group’s Taobao marketplace tested drone-delivery technology in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, delivering tea to some of its customers in a market test.

In the US the Small UAV Coalition welcomed the publication of the FAA’s proposed small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) rule but warned that that without the ability to move beyond line of sight operation, “we are not maximizing the technology as other countries already do.”