Could drone deliveries revitalize malls? Wing puts it to the test
Sure, the mall as you know it may be dead. But malls might be dead completely – and they could get a massive revitalization, thanks to drones. It’s an idea that Google sibling company Wing is putting to the test.
Wing has launched a new operating model for its drone delivery services by flying merchandise and food from the rooftop of the Grand Plaza Mall in Logan, Australia directly to customers’ homes or other businesses. With the project, you can get everything from sloshy drinks like bubble tea and smoothies, to sushi, to over-the-counter medicines delivered to your home.
What’s different about Wing’s latest mall deliveries?
Until now, Wing’s deliveries had been conducted from a centralized Wing-operated location, with merchants co-locating their goods at this location.
This flips the operating model as Wing now has brought its drones to where the merchants are.
For now, the deliveries are available to residents of nearby Logan suburbs including Regents Park, Heritage Park, Park Ridge, Browns Plains, Marsden, Crestmead, and Berrinba.
Here’s how it works:
- Assuming you live in an eligible suburb, you submits an order via the Wing mobile app, which is available to download on the App Store or Google Play.
- A drone flies to pick up the package from the Grand Plaza rooftop.
- The drone then climbs to flying altitude and proceeds to your home, supposedly within several minutes.
- Upon approach to your home, the drone slows down, hovers, descends to a delivery height of about 7 meters above the ground, lowers the package to the ground on a tether and automatically releases the package — no landing or unclipping the package involved.
- The drone then climbs back to cruise height and returns to the Grand Plaza rooftop.
For now, the stores available to order from are:
- Boost Juice
- Bubble, milk and iced tea shop Chatime
- Sushi Hub
- Local community pharmacy TerryWhite Chemmart
What’s next for Wing’s drone deliveries in Logan, Australia?
As of publication, Wing says it has conducted more than 2,500 deliveries from the roof of Logan’s Grand Plaza mall, which is a part of Australia retail property group Vicinity Centres. The southeast Queensland project has been ongoing since mid-August 2021.
The news of drone deliveries from malls follows a recent milestone for Wing in completing 100,000 deliveries to-date. Most were conducted in Wing, and in fact most were conducted this year. Wing has been in Logan for two years now, and made 50,000 drone deliveries to community members in 2021. Relative to the population, that means on average a Logan resident received a drone delivery nearly once every 30 seconds during its service hours.
Wing said it already has plans to grow its service from the Grand Plaza mall to include more businesses.
The company also said it is looking into launching similar services from other malls in the Vicinity Centres portfolio.
The impact drone deliveries could have on malls
It’s hard to say what kind of impact for sure drone deliveries could have on malls. It could bring more advertising and awareness to the mall, as a customer who orders a boba tea via drone one day might appreciate the tea, and meet up with a friend at the mall another time to consume a fresh one on-the-spot.
It could also get customers to order from a store that might not have at all, otherwise. For example, Mockingbird Cafe, a bakery in Christiansburg, Virginia that worked with Wing, said drone delivery accounted for about 25% of its sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps people isolating at home could still order coffee that they might have skipped out on otherwise.
But there’s a good chance that drone deliveries could continue the trend of killing traditional brick-and-mortar stores, just as online shopping like Amazon already has done.
In fact, Wing itself says that may very well be the case, albeit the company is spinning it as a positive in terms of cutting back on road congestion or creating other economic opportunities.
“With the increase in consumers’ desire for convenience and speed, on-demand drone delivery can help address the costly last-mile delivery challenge, reduce road congestion and emissions, and create new economic opportunities for businesses by utilising their existing retail space as logistics hubs and fulfillment centers,” Jesse Suskin, Wing’s Head of Policy & Community Affairs for Australia, said in a prepared statement.
And while Vicinity says it’s a new strategy, it’s optimistic it’s a good one.
“The retail industry is changing, and Vicinity is employing a test and learn approach in areas critical to the role of Australian shopping centerss in the future,” Vicinity’s Chief Innovation and Information Officer, Justin Mills, said in a prepared statement. “We believe the partnership with Wing will be an important component of our overall distribution and fulfillment strategy and support our new growth strategy.”
Wing began as part of X, a research and development facility and organization founded by Google in January 2010 with a goal to spin-off promising projects into their own companies (as happened to Wing). X’s Silicon Valley headquarters are located separately from Google headquarters.
Ironically, the building housing X (and formerly Wing) is a converted mall.
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