It’s a sunny spring morning in Dallas, Texas. Representatives from Walgreens and Alphabet’s Wing are in Simpson Plaza, preparing to launch drone delivery in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The first two recipients, the mayors of Frisco and Little Elm, have inputted their order into Wing’s app.
Minutes later, the drone arrives and safely lowers the package to its recipients, bringing store-to-door drone deliveries to a major U.S. metropolitan area for the first time. The products? Allergy medicine and vitamin C gummies—perfect for quick relief from seasonal allergies.
The service is initially launching in Frisco and Little Elm, respectively. Select customers in the pilot program’s designated area can choose from over 100 products for delivery, including over-the-counter health and wellness items and snacks and drinks.
Why Dallas-Fort Worth?
“Back when we launched in Virginia, we knew our goal was to deliver more things to people all over the world, which would mean operating beyond small towns,” says Jacob Demmitt, U.S. marketing and communications manager for Wing. “We knew the next frontier would be in major U.S. metros, so we’ve spent a lot of time preparing for this launch with Walgreens.”
“When we go to a new market, people have questions. Few people have experienced drone delivery before. Since we first announced the service in October 2021, we’ve gone to festivals, parades, and farmers markets and held demo days to invite people in to ask questions and gather feedback. Community outreach is very important to what we do,” explains Demmitt.
A critical detail before launching in a major U.S. market was reducing the footprint of Wing’s operations. In Virginia, orders are fulfilled by Wing employees from a Wing-owned fulfillment site. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Wing is able to operate from a minimal amount of store parking lot spaces and Walgreens team members load the packages. Wing and Walgreens’ goal will be for drones to deliver products in under ten minutes once an order is placed.
How will Walgreens team members handle mobile orders for drone delivery?
Customers in the DFW area will be able to order via Wing’s mobile app. Walgreens team members will then be notified of incoming orders on Wing-provided tablets and will locate the items on the shelves and package them. After attending training validated by the FAA, they have been cleared to attach these packages to the drones, which are waiting on charging pads in the parking lot. Once attached, Wing associates oversee delivery to doorsteps, backyards or whatever preferred location customers choose at their home.
“I worked with Wing to find ways to make the pilot program as successful as we can, which includes everything from looking at the safety for our team members to ensuring we have the product selection available for our customers,” commented Debbie Sayler, Walgreens director of pharmacy and retail in North Texas. Wing and store team members worked together to select a strategic area that, with the installation of a speed bump and painted walkways, would successfully create a clear pathway from the back of the store to the drones while avoiding the drive-thru lane.
“Being the first national retailer to pilot an on-demand drone delivery service is extremely exciting for me, especially since our store was selected. To think that someone can order a bottle of aspirin and it arrives at their home within minutes is very exciting,” said Sayler. To add to this excitement, customers can track the drones to their home in real time via the app. They will receive a notification once the order has been safely lowered to their location of choice to complete the experience.
What’s next for Walgreens and Wing?
“We already promise a 30-minute window through our curbside pickup or through our partnership with DoorDash,” explains Amy Wood, Walgreens district manager, “but you still have to have someone pick it up in those instances. With drone delivery, you don’t have to wait in traffic. The drones are smart and will get the package to the customer much faster. This is the best option for someone who might not have the means to get to the store.”
As the pilot project continues, delivery via drone will be free. And similar to the pilot in Virginia, which continues to this day, Wing and Walgreens will gather data and feedback from the community to further optimize the program. Both companies understand the importance of delivering customers what they need and when they need it, and are exploring the possibilities of delivery to public areas like city parks and pools down the line.
From Demmitt’s perspective, drone delivery is the future. “What we noticed in Virginia is that the service went from a novelty to a necessity during the pandemic, and it’s never gone back. Once it became a part of people’s every day, it stuck. It’s a big part of peoples’ lives in Virginia and we hope to see the same thing here.”