Amazon is moving at drone speed, but retailers shouldn't focus on immediacy

Consistency and clarity is what customers really want.

We are evidently only months away from Amazon making deliveries via drones. This news underscores a race to solve a conundrum in ecommerce: the last mile of delivery. Amazon is speeding toward making delivery almost immediate — not just a same-day service — while fellow retail giant Walmart is aiming to make next-day delivery the norm nationwide. Meanwhile, players beyond the retail space, like Ford, are getting into delivery robots. 

I worry about retailers losing sight of what’s more important than speed: delivering on what they can control. After all, 64% of consumers have avoided a brand because they had a negative experience. There are so many ways of making customers feel delighted and satisfied before, during and after they buy. Speed isn’t everything. 

Unfortunately, this is not what we see represented in the news. Google recently became the first drone operator to receive FAA approval, clearing the digital behemoth to deliver packages by aerial robots via the company Wing. When that development surfaced, Google Shopping suddenly got more interesting. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Prime Air service, which promised 30-minute delivery via drones a few years ago, has remained grounded due to the FAA—but the ecommerce giant remains steadfast about getting the program flying soon. And UPS has been using drones to deliver blood samples to hospitals for the past couple of months, while Zipline plans to use $190 million in new funding to deliver medical supplies across Africa, the Americas, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Indeed, all signs point to the world moving at the speed of drones.  

The ecommerce industry should consider slowing down and getting the fundamentals right first, such as creating more intuitive product pages, making email, text and push notifications more timely and relevant and offering a customer-first returns policy. In terms of the latter idea, 68% of shoppers said they would be more inclined to shop on a merchant's site if it offered automated returns, provided return labels and triggered refunds when a carrier scans the returned package. Just 8% of retailers offer this level of service. 

It’s still true that timely ecommerce delivery is important—80% of consumers have said they want a same-day shipping option. Of course they do. If asked whether they wanted one-hour delivery, just as many people would say they want that option. Who wouldn’t? But retailers shouldn’t overpromise and risk not being able to meet expectations because that damages a brand. And getting the end-to-end delivery system working smoothly and in service of the customer is more important than dropping packages at their doorstep in a matter of hours. 

Retailers should give customers as many options as is possible and sustainable. But offering a fulfillment system that delivers packages when customers expect to get them is, ultimately, more important for most retailers than wowing them with delivery at break-neck speed. Most shoppers don’t make purchases with the expectation of instant fulfillment. But our research does show that 54% of shoppers will give repeat business to a retailer who can accurately predict when it will arrive.

It’s all about creating a great customer experience. Whether receiving or returning ecommerce orders, customers expect retailers to keep them in the loop at almost all times. For instance, in a survey run by my company, we found that 59% of consumers want notifications about the status of their refund, and 50% want notifications about the status of their return package.

Indeed, peace of mind is incredibly important to creating loyal customers in retail. It doesn’t matter if your business delivers orders the next day if the customer feels like he or she is in the dark about their order status. And it doesn’t matter if the package arrives at the front door thanks to a futuristic drone. What really matters is staying connected to customers so they know what to expect and using data to power outcomes that are positive and memorable for the customer.

Brands that automate that level of service will win the retail game over the next few years. Anything less—no matter how it’s delivered—just won’t fly. 

Amit Sharma is CEO of Narvar. 

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