Drones launch into rural China on Singles’ Day

JD.com exploits the hype around Singles’ Day to announce expansion of its airborne capabilities with regular drone deliveries to more than 100 routes across mainland China by the first half of 2017.

Following Alibaba Group’s announcement of a 32% growth in gross merchandise volume to a record CN ¥120 billion (US$17.7billion) for its 24-hour 11.11 promotion last Friday, online shopping rival JD.com chose Saturday to report both its impressive 59% growth in total transaction volume for the same day and the expansion of its commercial drone delivery programme introduced earlier this year.

Drone delivery expansion
With China’s air force in control of the country’s air space, JD.com had to obtain government permission for its drone delivery program. The company has already licensed 30 flight routes in four different regions across China, and now plans to regularly operate in more than 100 routes across the mainland by the first half of next year.

“I don’t think anyone else is doing this [drone delivery service],” says JD spokesman Josh Gartner

Access to rural China
JD.com’s research and logistics innovation laboratory, JDX, developed its drone programme for rural China to make the delivery of goods from warehouses to customers quicker, cheaper and more efficient.

“This is something we look at as a long-term project. The benefits are tremendous if we get it into the most expensive areas of China,” JD.com Chief Technology Officer Chen Zhang told Bloomberg. “In some places, the villagers place an order and get the delivery in a few weeks. Now maybe it’ll come in a few days.”

“E-commerce is bringing goods to consumers in a more convenient and cost-effective way, and is a very meaningful channel to increase domestic consumption,” Jessie Qian, partner-in-charge for consumer markets at consultancy KPMG China, said in a report on Friday.

How it works
JD.com is China’s second biggest online direct retailer, but unlike its internationally known rival Alibaba Group, it does its own deliveries, which makes the use of drones ideal for the company. The drones themselves are controlled by a proprietary system, connected to its logistics network, that allows the devices to take off automatically and follow a pre-determined route to a village.

Once a customer orders something from JD.com online, the package is sent from the distribution point to drone point where workers hook up the package to an available drone. The drone then delivers the package to a rural “village promoter,” who takes the package directly to the customer, making the drone service more about internal delivery within the company than direct to customers themselves. JD currently has more than 300,000 village promoters across the country.

Tags: Technology, JD.com, Drones

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