JD.com, China’s second largest online retailer has announced plans to expand its drone delivery routes to reach a growing network of rural villages following a successful launch last year.
The company, China’s main rival to online giant Alibaba, has been using drones to deliver goods across four Chinese provinces including Jiangsu, rural Beijing, Sichuan and Guangxi since last
The company currently runs about 20 fixed delivery routes, but plans to expand its reach to more than 100 routes across the countryside by the end of 2017, provided its receives approval from local governments across China in addition to the regulatory approval it secured last year.
Growing drone fleet
Currently, JD has a fleet of 30 drones, developed by their own engineers, which can deliver packages that weigh between 5 kilos and 15 kilos and cover distances as far as 30 miles.
“We try to deliver with drones from cities to the countryside,” explained JD’s CEO Richard Liu. “In every village, we have a delivery man who lives in the village, and he will take the parcels [delivered by drone] to different houses.” Each drone that flies may carry between eight and 15 packages that were ordered in the village."
Different delivery approach
JD.com says it has a network of around 300,000 contractors to cover an estimated 600,000 villages in China. The delivery set-up is distinctly different and less complicated from Amazon's delivery system in the UK, which uses drones to deliver products directly to a customer’s front door.
JD's approach allows it to tap into the e-commerce activities from the rural villages in China, which presents a major business opportunity and the chance for JD.com to become even more of a threat to rival Alibaba.
Experts acknowledge that the Chinese model is easier to achieve as it uses fixed destinations in places away from crowded places. However, deliveries to individual premises in cities will be much more challenging because, apart from strict regulatory approvals, it will require far more complicated communications, navigation and command technologies.
Nol van Fenema