• The New York Times has a piece about how Amazon's drone delivery ambitions have largely failed to take off.
"Exactly a decade ago," the Times writes, "Amazon revealed a program that aimed to revolutionize shopping and shipping. Drones launched from a central hub would waft through the skies delivering just about everything anyone could need. They would be fast, innovative, ubiquitous — all the Amazon hallmarks."
Now, the story says, "drone delivery is a reality — kind of — on the outskirts of College Station, Texas, northwest of Houston. That is a major achievement for a program that has waxed and waned over the years and lost many of its early leaders to newer and more urgent projects.
"Yet the venture as it currently exists is so underwhelming that Amazon can keep the drones in the air only by giving stuff away. Years of toil by top scientists and aviation specialists have yielded a program that flies Listerine Cool Mint Breath Strips or a can of Campbell’s Chunky Minestrone With Italian Sausage - but not both at once - to customers as gifts. If this is science fiction, it’s being played for laughs."
The story goes on:
"For a while, drones were the next big thing. Google developed its own drone service, Wing, which now works with Walmart to deliver items in parts of Dallas and Frisco, Texas. Start-ups got funding — about $2.5 billion was invested between 2013 and 2019, according to the Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy. The veteran venture capitalist Tim Draper said in 2013 that 'everything from pizza delivery to personal shopping can be handled by drones.' Uber Eats announced a food delivery drone in late 2019. The future was up in the air.
"Amazon started thinking really long term. It envisioned, and got a patent for, a drone resupply vehicle that would hover in the sky at 45,000 feet. That’s above commercial airplanes, but Amazon said it could use the vehicles to deliver customers a hot dinner.
"Yet on the ground, progress was slow, sometimes for technical reasons and sometimes because of the company’s corporate DNA. The same aggressive confidence that created a trillion-dollar business undermined Amazon’s efforts to work with the Federal Aviation Administration."
• From ABC News:
"Amazon and Meta settled separate U.K. antitrust investigations by agreeing to stop practices that give them an unfair advantage over merchants and customers using their platforms … The Competition and Markets Authority said it accepted the commitments from the U.S. tech companies to close the investigations into their online marketplaces.
"The watchdog had been investigating whether Amazon was harming competition and hurting consumers by giving preference to merchants paying for extras like storage, packaging and delivery.
"it also looked into how Amazon chooses suppliers for the so-called buy box, which shows customers one-click 'buy now' or 'add to basket' options and the collection and use of data. The CMA said Amazon will no longer be able to use data from third-party sellers to give itself an edge. Sellers can negotiate their own delivery rates with independent delivery services and they'll get a fair shot at the buy box, it said."
• From Axios:
"The era of free returns — an essential part of the rise of online shopping — is ending."
The story notes that "returns surged during the height of the pandemic, when more people were shopping online. The return rate increased from 10.6% in 2020 to 16.5% in 2022, costing retailers more than $800 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. 63% of consumers said they order multiple sizes or versions of the same item, with the intention of returning what they don't want, according to Narvar, which makes software for retailers. That's up from 55% in 2019."
Now, Axios writes, "more than 40% of retailers are now charging return fees."