Wal-Mart has opened a new front in its battle with Amazon.com. The world’s largest retailer has applied for a U.S. patent for a floating warehouse that could make deliveries via drones, which would bring products from the aircraft down to customers’ homes. The blimp-style machine would fly at heights between 500 feet and 1,000 feet (as much as 305 meters), contain multiple launching bays, and be operated autonomously or by a remote human pilot. Amazon was granted a patent for a similar vessel in April 2016. The migration to the skies represents the latest volley in a clash between Wal-Mart and Amazon to grab shoppers’ attention, loyalty and dollars.
Total Retail's Take: The battle over speed of delivery is extending to the friendly skies. Wal-Mart and Amazon are focused on getting online orders to customers’ homes as quickly as possible, and are investing in drone technology as a means of making that happen. In addition to increasing the speed in which the order is fulfilled, Wal-Mart's "floating warehouse" could potentially save the retailer in "last mile" delivery charges from local and/or national logistics companies. Despite their potential benefits, drone deliveries don't appear to be going mainstream any time soon, and at this point are more of a novelty than a dependable delivery solution. My recommendation is that retailers focus on optimizing the basics of the supply chain, ensuring that customers get their orders when you tell them you will — and in perfect condition — rather than spending a great deal of time or money on drones.