In an urban environment, the cost of delivering a merchandise in an ecommerce channel represents around 40% of the total logistics costs. It is really a significant percentage, which at the moment is already quite adjusted, with the current distribution systems.

Online purchases have been growing above double digits in recent years and this rate is even increasing. In addition to current lifestyles, one of the factors that promote this growth is the ever shorter delivery times for purchases. In Spain, according to the latest data, half of potential online buyers are not willing to wait more than 2 days to receive their purchases. This is a challenge for logistics operators who are looking for solutions that not only reduce delivery times, but also can reduce the costs associated with delivery.

In this search for solutions, delivery drones are going to play a decisive role. Leaving aside the technical and regulatory considerations that we have already discussed in other blogs, we are going to focus on this occasion, on the economic aspects of this form of transport.

In a study carried out in the USA, the cost of delivering a package with a drone over a distance of 10 miles, would be 7.8 dollars (7.2 €) in a conventional operation, but it is reduced to 0.25 dollars (2,3 €) if the operation is carried out independently. Here is therefore a factor that must be considered if we really want to have a highly competitive transport to cover the demand in the coming years. If we compare it with the current average costs for parcel deliveries in the city of Madrid, by ground transportation, the costs stand at 2.4 € (2.60 USD) and an average of more than 125,000 packages is estimated delivered daily, with a distribution of approximately 210 packages delivered per square kilometre.

There are already experiences of using drones for urgent deliveries in the USA, and they have established a cost horizon that makes the service profitable at 0.26 $ per shipment. With this cost, the forecasts are that the drones can cover half of the total deliveries.

Fast and safe deliveries will further increase the demand for online sales. Traditional sales currently account for 78%, compared to 22% for e-commerce. In the year 2026, traditional sales are expected to drop to 47%, the rest being online sales, where 25% will correspond to deliveries by drone and 32% to deliveries by ground transportation. But if we look at the expected horizon of the year 2030, traditional sales will fall to 40% compared to 60% of online sales, but with 40% of them through drone deliveries compared to 20% by terrestrial means.

There are several factors that still need to be improved and adjusted so that the progress of UAS deliveries becomes a complete reality. In any case, drones will never be able to completely replace other terrestrial ways of making deliveries and of course it will be the market, the wishes of customers and the physical barriers that decide in each case which means to use.

However, the possibilities and immediacy of deliveries with drones are going to change the rules of the game and the evaluations we make now will not be valid in the face of a future reality with new schemes that will surface demands and needs that we cannot analyze now.

The convergence of artificial intelligence and the technologies that the UAS will gradually incorporate will completely overturn current mobility concepts and will offer services at very competitive costs and new purchasing possibilities will emerge.

The concept of immediacy and urgency will be different and the possibility of using drones for C2C services will be established, where people can use them as tools that satisfy direct and immediate exchanges. As we said in the title of this text, it can become ordinary and common to say, “send me a drone”, to carry out activities that we cannot even imagine now. Simultaneously, the drone will allow deliveries not to be made at a fixed point, but we will be able to receive deliveries while we move. We are simply venturing into a future that is not very far away and that will change the current customs in many of our daily processes.

Pablo Morera

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