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The New York Times has a piece by technology columnist Farhad Manjoo about how Amazon, a company that tends to be highly secretive about its strategies, tactics and even vision, " has left a trail of clues suggesting that it is radically altering how it delivers goods. Among other moves, it has set up its own fleet of trucks; introduced an Uber-like crowdsourced delivery service; built many robot-powered warehouses; and continued to invest in a far-out plan to use drones for delivery. It made another splash last week, when it showed off an Amazon-branded Boeing 767 airplane, one of more than 40 in its planned fleet.

"These moves have fueled speculation that Amazon is trying to replace the third-party shipping companies it now relies on — including UPS, FedEx and the United States Postal Service — with its homegrown delivery service. Its logistics investments have also fed the general theory that Amazon has become essentially unbeatable in American e-commerce — no doubt one reason Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, felt the need this week to acquire an audacious Amazon rival, Jet.com, for $3.3 billion."

But Manjoo doesn't think this is entirely accurate: "First, it’s not trying to replace third-party shippers. Instead, over the next few years, Amazon wants to add as much capacity to its operations as possible, and rather than replace partners like UPS and FedEx, it is spending boatloads on planes, trucks, crowdsourcing and other novel delivery services to add to its overall capacity and efficiency.

"Amazon’s longer-term goal is more fantastical — and, if it succeeds, potentially transformative. It wants to escape the messy vicissitudes of roads and humans. It wants to go fully autonomous, up in the sky. The company’s drone program ... is central to this future; drones could be combined with warehouses manned by robots and trucks that drive themselves to unlock a new autonomous future for Amazon."

To be sure, this is a somewhat fantastical and long-term vision; but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, after all, is a guy who has invested in a space flight company. And the column is worth reading here because it outlines not just what the strategic vision may be, but the thinking behind it.

But here's one more tease, from Manjoo: "If Amazon’s drone program succeeds (and Amazon says it is well on track), it could fundamentally alter the company’s cost structure. A decade from now, drones would reduce the unit cost of each Amazon delivery by about half, analysts at Deutsche Bank projected in a recent research report."

Check out the column here.
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