Will 7-Eleven build on feat of completing first retail drone delivery?

One small step for man, one giant leap for flying Slurpees

A drone
Credit: DJI

One small step for man, one giant leap for flying Slurpees. An unexpected winner has emerged in the retail contest for who will be the first to fly a delivery via drone into somebody's backyard: 7-Eleven, of "They actually deliver?" fame.

Yes, they deliver and they have beat Amazon and others to the punch of getting out the first delivery. The planet's largest convenience chain did the flying saucer schtick on July 10 and announced it on July 22, implying that it happened near Reno, Nev. The chain worked with a drone company called Flirtey.

"Once at the family’s backyard, the Flirtey drone hovered in place and gently lowered each package," the 7-Eleven statement said, adding that it actually made two separate deliveries to the residence about one mile from the store. "Products included Slurpee drinks, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee and 7-Select candy."

The reality is that drones — along with same-day-delivery efforts, especially from the likes of Amazon — arguably have more potential to reshape retail than anything else. What we have is the constant battle between traditional online operations such as Amazon and potentially Google.

Traditional online has always had a serious edge in the convenience department, and same-day delivery can shake that up. Imagine a Walmart shopping experience where the desired items literally fly from the store 10 miles away to your front door, arriving 30 minutes after the order is placed.

That all said, a convenience chain — the name of its category notwithstanding — is an odd choice. First, the stores tend to be staffed very thinly. A drone delivery is unlikely to ever be fully automated. Some worker has to get the product and load it into the drone and launch it. If they have enough people working that shift to handle lots of drone orders, they are overstaffed. If the orders have to wait hours before someone gets to it, it defeats the purpose of a fast drone delivery.

There's also the ROI factor. Consumers generally see a convenience store visit — whether it's 7-Eleven, Speedway, QuikTrip or Wawa's — as an easy way to pick up one or two last-minute items. It's not a place to buy 20 grocery items, nor is it a destination for high-quality or expensive items. It's a "oops, I forgot to get lighter fluid" kind of a visit or maybe "we need some munchies for our road trip." With that kind of purchase in mind, is it going to be cost-effective to handle drone deliveries?

Also, convenience stores were created — logically enough — for convenience. Their around-the-corner locations and small footprints were designed to get people in and out fast in locations along major local travel paths. Whereas there are lots of shoppers who would love to avoid the un-fun experience of physically shopping at a Walmart, Target or Costco, 7-Elevens are generally perceived as effortless and quick.

Those are good things, of course, but it makes the effort-versus-benefit argument more difficult to make for drone deliveries.

Still, the first retail drone delivery has happened. That has to be a good thing.

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