Walgreens will partner with Wing, a drone technology subsidiary of Google, to launch a trial delivery program in Christiansburg, Va. Local retailer Sugar Magnolia also will take part in the pilot, and FedEx Express customers who live within designated areas will be able to receive some packages in a special box that can be dropped off via drone.
Walgreens will offer over-the-counter medicine and other health and wellness items on-demand, while Sugar Magnolia will send cards and small gifts. Drones are expected to fulfill the orders in minutes, demonstrating how this form of delivery can improve access to health care products, create new avenues of growth for businesses and enhance the efficiency of last mile delivery service.
Wing became the first drone operator to receive government approval as an airline in April, marking an important step on the path to having legal authority to deliver packages. Drone regulations ban most flights over crowds and urban areas, but the approval means Wing is allowed to handle longer deliveries in Virginia and can apply to operate in other states as well.
Wing started working on its delivery capabilities long before it received approval for commercial uses, most famously when the company delivered hundreds of burritos by air at Virginia Tech in 2016, according to CNN. However, that test was limited to a single, closed-off site, while this latest delivery program will cover an area of several miles.
Air-powered last mile delivery is an important step in meeting shoppers’ ever-growing delivery demands, particularly as Amazon strives to make one-day shipping the new normal. Shrinking delivery windows may be part of why shoppers are becoming interested in this technology: 37.1% of consumers said they are significantly more comfortable with retailers and transportation companies using drones as of February 2019, an increase of 28.8% from 2018, according to the Retail TouchPoints Annual Connected Retailer Survey.