Guess what’s buzzing in retail… Drones!The drones are coming!

Research firm Markets and Markets estimates that the global drone market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 32% between 2015 and 2020 into a $5.6 billion industry.

With the recent drone regulation update from the FAA in July 2016, businesses in the US will now be able to use drones for infrastructure inspection purposes, in shooting film scenes, and for limited aerial surveillance when the regulations take effect in August 2016.

The applications are expanding

From research to surveillance to photography, drones are flying off the manufacturing shelves as more and more businesses start to explore commercial applications of this aerial technology.

Companies that want to operate drones in ways still not allowed under the new rulings will need to apply for waivers to use them for tasks like flying drones at night or out of sight.

What happened to delivery?

With Amazon initiating the drone conversation, the retail industry has often been considered a forerunner in using this technology for last mile delivery. But businesses like Amazon and Google, whose drone delivery projects are impacted by line-of-sight regulations will still need to apply on a case by case basis for flying authorization.

As a result, the use of drones in retail distribution is still at a nascent stage but many in the industry do expect it to grow rapidly over the next decade.

Retail industry prophet Doug Stephens comments that the possibilities with drones are too compelling for retailers to ignore. Says Stephens, “While we sit here in North America debating whether Amazon will eventually deliver packages by drone, DHL is already doing it in Germany.”

According to NRF article, ‘Will drones fly in retail?’ DHL Parcel started delivering medications to the remote German island of Juist by drones; the United Arab Emirates is working on a system to use drones to transport government documents. Google is also testing a drone delivery system in the Australian outback.

Yet in anticipation of relaxed FAA regulations, WalMart has recently requested regulators permission to start testing their drones indoors for the purpose of home delivery, indicating that there is still a future application.

Security and Logistics

While Amazon has understandably received a lot of attention with its drone-based delivery concept, drones usage is also now being explored across other retail activities such as store site surveillance, security, product and inventory logistics, and footfall analysis.

Joe LaRocca, loss prevention consultant and president and founder of RetaiLPartners, says drones may someday be used in retail by security departments to patrol their properties.

In its FAA application, WalMart stated one example of drone usage would be for taking stock of trucks and items in the warehouse parking lots using electronic tagging.

Getting a Bigger Picture

Early last year Lowe’s announced how it was using satellite imagery to gauge traffic to its stores. By scanning traffic images, the company could estimate how many shoppers to expect every hour. Aerial surveillance using drones could expand this sort of science by offering more precise data.

Where’s my stuff?

Equipping drones with scanners, enable retailers to keep track of their merchandise across warehouses or even within stores. Last year, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), presented its InventAIRy project for locating products and inventory of warehouse stocks with the help of flying robots.

In the article, Will Drone Based RFID Readers ever Gain Traction?, SCDigest has reported a drone-based reader system for taking in-store retail inventory, which details drones outfitted with readers to scan RFID tags, providing information of where products are in real-time.


Regardless of the current extent of drones in retail use, the new FAA rules represent a milestone moment for the drone industry. With the U.S. government taking steps to open the skies to flying robots, what remains to be seen is how soon we will see them flying off the retail shelves.