How Drones Will Change the Retail Industry

  • 11 November 2017
  • Shawn Farner

When you hear the word “drone,” it might not bring the most positive thoughts to mind. You might think of all the stories you hear on the news about celebrities having their privacy invaded by reporters using drones with cameras. You might even think of the kid down the street who accidentally flew his drone through the neighbor’s window. These are certainly drones at their worst, but they don’t speak to the potential positive uses drones have in many different areas. And as drones become more commonplace in the world and we see an increased business use for these autonomous flying vehicles, we’ll begin to see them carve out their niches in the world of retail.

We’ve put together a list of several ways we see drones shaking up the retail industry. We hope that, after reading through the items below, you’ll see the potential drones have to make real change and help both stores and customers have a better shopping experience.

Stock and Inventory

Dmitry Kalinovsky/123RF

Let’s think about the current state of warehouses. Who’s currently working in them? Right now, the answer is, for the most part, humans. These workers bring items into the warehouse, moving around large amounts of them using forklifts and other heavy equipment. They then move these items once more to trucks whenever they’re shipped out to retailers, or in a retail warehouse, employees pick items and either prepare them for shipment to customers or bring them out to the floor to be stocked. Drones are going to come in and make a big impact in this area when it comes to moving products around. For instance, a drone will make it more feasible for warehouses to start building upward instead of outward in order to add space, thanks to a drone’s ability to fly up to the item it needs. A drone programmed to understand the floor layout and where items are located will also be able to locate and secure something far more quickly than a human. And in retail locations, drones can ensure the floor is always stocked, bringing new items out when they see an item is starting to run low on the shelf.



Security for retailers is a very important issue. Some stores sell high-ticket items, and unfortunately, this makes them a target for theft. A few cameras on the ceiling and a security guard or two should do the job, right? Not for most stores, especially after hours. This is where drones come in. Drones have the ability to be anywhere on the premises, constantly surveilling important areas to deter break-ins. And should a drone find someone where they don’t belong, it can do what a human guard might not be able to do: both alert the authorities while also continuing to follow the thief in question. It’s like the “dogs” you’d see set loose to track down someone who’s broken out of prison except these dogs are able to fly and use thermal imaging to see someone even when they’re hiding. Expect to see more drones being used to bolster security at retailers in the future.



By far the most fun way we’ve seen drones used, deliveries are another way these autonomous machines will soon make lives better for consumers. You may have seen an example of drone delivery in action when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos demonstrated the technology on 60 Minutes. The future use of drones for deliveries won’t be far off that presentation and will help retailers in two ways. First, customers will get their products much more quickly than they do now. They’ll be able to order a brand-new coffee mug from a website like Amazon and have a friendly looking drone drop it on their doorstep in minutes rather than days. The second way retailers will benefit from drone deliveries? Lowered costs. The ability to cut delivery costs will be huge for retailers, many of whom already subsidize free shipping on their products. Taking the delivery of products into their own hands will enable retailers to save some money — money they could very well use to offer even lower prices to consumers. We’ll undoubtedly see increased competition among stores as drones begin to take over delivery duties.

Real Estate Planning


This is an area that isn’t talked about a whole lot, but it’s incredibly important to retailers. A lot of time and money goes into building a new warehouse, office space or store location, but it also takes money and time to scout for real estate. In the future, intelligent drones will be able to handle this task on behalf of retail companies, flying off into the world to look for large swaths of land near developing areas — the kinds of places that might be good for a new store. A drone can find these spots, snap some photos, gather location information, and report back to headquarters so the executive team can review the possibilities and come to a decision.

Consumer Shopping Behavior

Александр Савченко/123RF

Drones can get pretty high and can move freely. When they’re equipped with a camera, they automatically become more useful to retailers than cameras in fixed locations. You’ll start to see drones play a big role for retailers when it comes to studying consumer shopping behavior in a retail location. They can look down from the top of the store and study how shoppers are moving, giving retailers a better idea of how to better lay out the floor space. Sure, it seems a little big-brothery, but there will reach a point in the future where drones are such a daily part of our lives that we won’t give them a second thought.

Marketing Photography

Retailers always need photos for marketing purposes! But professional photographers can be expensive, and fixed cameras aren’t in position to take the best shots. Drones have the ability to be anywhere in a store and can grab a bird’s-eye shot from the ceiling or a floor-level photo from a lower elevation. Drones are already making a splash in photography — you’ll start to see them more in the retail marketing space very soon.


Can you think of some additional way drones will affect the retail industry? Leave your thoughts below.

About Shawn Farner