Are consumers ready for drone delivery? Maybe, but will they pay for it?

A new survey sheds light on American attitudes toward drone delivery -- and it's complicated.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

With news that Amazon has officially entered the drone delivery game, it might feel like adoption is inevitable. But what do consumers think of that possibility?

A new survey polling more than 1,000 consumers across the U.S. sought to answer exactly that question, as well as to extract consumer sentiment about the coming of drone delivery and a new phase of ultra-fast end-to-end service. The top line? Consumers tend to be drone curious and generally in favor of the technology, although as with seemingly everything in the country, there's no consensus.

The survey found that a majority of Americans (58%) favor the idea of drone deliveries and even more (64%) think drones are becoming an option for home delivery now or will be in the near future, suggesting a small gap between those who believe the trend is inevitable and those who think it's a good idea. 

Of the 64% who see drones becoming an option for home delivery, 32% think it's possible now or within the next 1 to 2 years, 18% say within 3 to 4 years, and 14% within 5 to 10 years. Among doubters, 36% think it just isn't likely to happen. The biggest reason for the holdout was the likelihood of regulatory hurdles, accounting for 20% who think the general public or governments will not approve of large-scale drone adoption for delivery.

Of those polled,16% just plain prefer that it doesn't happen. I'm surprised the number is that small, frankly, given frequent criticism leveled at the idea, including fear of noise and nuisance and privacy concerns.

"Americans are ready for drones to deliver their packages, and retailers that adopt and scale drone delivery programs will find themselves ahead of the curve," says Lorenz Meier, co-founder and CEO of Auterion, maker of an open-source based drone mobility platform, which commissioned the report from Propeller Insights. "Cargo is the first instance where most people will directly experience the power of air mobility and autonomous systems—where drones will become a tangible, everyday reality." 

Currently, the most common types of home package deliveries reported by consumers surveyed are groceries, clothing, household goods, meals, and medicine. A full 54% of Americans were willing to consider drones as "the new corner store" for many of these items. Not surprisingly, given how convenience motivated consumers are, same-day delivery also ranked high in terms of importance.

Which isn't to say there aren't fears. A full 43% of respondents fear the drone will break down and they won't get their items, and 19% are distressed about not having human interaction with their delivery person, part of a massive trend toward contactless service. The days of the quick chat with the delivery person could be coming to an end in an age of drone delivery.

There were additional concerns that seem generalized to the delivery and logistics sector rather than specific to drones, such as 39% fearing that the drone will deliver items to the wrong address, 38% worried that if something happens to the drone, I won't get a refund, and 37% that my items will get ruined by the travel. Notably, 32% expressed fear that the sky will be cluttered with ugly/noisy technology, a very real fear and one that I haven't seen properly addressed in the race ahead toward drone delivery.

And what will consumers pay for the privilege of having a parcel air dropped? Not a whole lot, it turns out. Free drone delivery was appealing to 59% of respondents, but the numbers drop precipitously from there. The highest add-on fee some Americans would be willing to pay ranged from $1 to $10 (41%) to more than $10 (18%), while a full 41% would not be willing to pay an extra fee.

In other words, Americans will take the convenience of lightning fast drone delivery -- but it better not cost much.

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