Overview of Drone Use in Retail

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), known as drones, go beyond traditional applications in the military and commercial industry. Drones are currently used in a range of business fields, including but not limited to, healthcare, agriculture, education, internet access, real estate, media, and advertising.

Drones are largely applied to the retail sector and perform a vital role in the reinvention of retail marketing. The usage of drones in retail mainly assists retailers in cutting costs, saving time, optimizing the customer experience, boosting efficiency, ensuring safety, and providing job opportunities.

In this way, physical store retailers and online retailers are deriving substantial benefits from drones by applying them to delivery services, transportation, security, inventory management, observing customer behaviour, marketing photography, and assisting in shopping during daily operations of retail.

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Applying Drones for Deliveries

The most evident and comprehensive application for drones in retail is delivery services. The significant advantage of drones is that they can provide a faster delivery service than traditional transportation or delivery services. The increasing demand for high-efficiency, especially same-day delivery, from customers, as well as the growing competition within retail marketing, drives retailers to take in drones for faster delivery services. Goods like packages, doughnuts, coffee, and toothpaste can be delivered from local retailers and fulfilment centres to customers by drones within a short time frame.

In comparison to conventional manual logistics delivery, drone-based delivery expands the delivery service area. Mountainous areas, remote islands, rural communities, and places in emergencies can all be reached by drones. This would otherwise not be accessible by foot, or highly costly by helicopter, or boat, etc. Therefore, deliveries via drones prove to be highly useful, efficient, and cost-effective for areas were transporting by road is difficult, or places that lack reliable landing infrastructure for deliveries.

Delivery via drones can allow retailers to take control of products and the whole chain of logistics on their own. Because the entire process does not require a third-party to supply delivery service, retailers can closely supervise or regulate every step of logistics. Moreover,  retailers can lower the price of products and benefit customers as a result of saving money and cutting costs.

Applying Drones for Retail Security

Besides product delivery, retailers also utilize various applications of drones in the retail world, and they are finding that their use can also be useful for security purposes.

Security assurance can be considered one of the most critical tasks in the retail world. Security guards and cameras are not able to cover all the retail property areas to prevent theft. Drones can be used to secure facilities, warehouses, stores, and surroundings through live stream videos. They can monitor and check essential areas and places that cannot be adequately covered by cameras and security guards. Furthermore, potentially suspicious activities can be detected by a combination of drones and security sensors. If products are stolen, drones will trigger the security system to notify the security team while continuously following the offender, sharing real-time position updates, and alerting the authorities.

Applying Drones for Indoor Inventory Management

The application of drones in warehouses and fulfilment centres are proven to be highly useful for indoor inventory management. Drones can access areas in unstructured large-scale environments with ease. Where it would be unsafe for an employee to inspect a dangerous area, drones can be operated by personnel to carry out inspections without having to put oneself in a hazardous situation. They can take on tasks that are too difficult for giant, pre-set programs.

Retailers can operate drones to locate and measure inventory with a combination of sensors in networks or containers around the facility. Drones could perform store inspections and help managers assess inventory faster than associates can use a ladder. Drones are useful for restoring products when they detect that it is running out of stock. Therefore, accurate and real-time inventory data can be continuously supplied. It is helpful for retailers to serve customers with updated information quickly to optimize the customer experience. Also, a reduction in labour costs can ultimately result in a lower price of products for customers.



Applying Drones for Observing Customer Behavior

Retailers may use the capabilities of drones to track and observe consumer movements or behaviour, which can provide information for retailers to analyze and understand a consumer’s purchasing preferences and traits.

Aerial drones with cameras are located at high positions which enable them to record and capture customer behavior or movement, indicating where they are going, how long they take to shop items at particular sections, and the passing route. This collected information is precious for retailers in arranging the order of products, changing the floor space, and optimizing the layout of shelves. Overall, it can provide design and decoration ideas which will attract more customers and/or increase sales.

Applying Drones for Retail Marketing Photography

To better promote or advertise products, eye-catching and high-resolution photos are necessary for retailers. Due to potential budget restrictions, some retailers may not have access to photography studios and may not able to hire expensive professional photographers. Drones can partly solve this problem by taking pictures from different angles and distances, such as bird’ s-eye view and floor level shots. Thus, clear and all-dimensional photos can be acquired within a budget and used for marketing campaigns.

Using Drones as Shopping Assistants

Customers can spend a lot of time finding the right product in a store. Applying drones to the process of shopping and enabling drones to operate as shopping assistants can allow customers to quickly and efficiently get assistance with locating a particular product while verifying the price and clarifying its name. This can be particularly useful during the peak of sale seasons when sales associates are overworked and unable to assist every customer promptly.

After receiving shopping, assisting requests, drones can lead customers to the exact location of the products. With the help of sensors, drones can verify the price of products and check the information stored in the centralized computer database. The usage of a drone shopping assistant may not only reduce the cost of labor but also save time for both customers and staff.

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