Faceless drones won't solve Amazon's PR problem

Ten miles in 30 minutes? A teenager on a scooter could do that in less time

Share
Related Topics

Amazon is in a tricky spot, PR-wise, on its busiest day of the year (its UK site took 41 orders per second on this day last year). The retailer is facing unprecedented scrutiny of journalists exposing working conditions (read on); calls for a boycott by MPs not impressed by its imaginative tax arrangements ; and the wrath of gamers who will receive their Playstation 4’s after Christmas.

Either in response to a rare run of Amazon-bashing - or by coincidence - Jeff Bezos, the company’s mercurial boss, last night revealed a fanciful vision of a future in which drones might deliver your stuff in 30 minutes. The video, given huge prominence on the CBS 60 Minutes program in the US, comes more than six months after Domino’s Pizza pulled exactly the same stunt. But when you’re Bezos nobody minds and, by morning, your story is everywhere.

First, the suggestion that the drone story might not be a PR stunt. Really? Give it five years, Bezos says. That’s five years to work out a way to serve people who happen to live within 10 miles of an Amazon warehouse, while dealing with things like power lines, buildings, the lack of landing sites at your average flat, wind, vandalism, crashes, the risk of drone theft.

Also, ten miles in 30 minutes? A teenager on a scooter could do that in less time. But then a drone doesn’t demand minimum wage (Amazon warehouse workers get a bit more). Given some of the recent coverage of the store’s pay and working conditions, its vision of an unmanned future is especially timely.

A significant proportion of the thousands of people at its Swansea warehouse appear to be journalists. I went there in October  to assess the retailer’s impact on the former industrial towns where it tends to set up shop. Then, last week, BBC Panorama got in, undercover, to add to plenty of earlier reporting on tough regime (its reporter said workers there were “like robots…”).

Yesterday, The Observer, acknowledging it had been scooped by Panorama, ran an excellent story by Carole Cadwalladr, who also managed to get undercover work in Swansea, and wrote similar things, as well as this:

“I wonder for a moment if we have committed the ultimate media absurdity and [Panorama’s] undercover reporter… has secretly filmed me while I was secretly interviewing him.”

He hadn’t, as it happened, but it’s no coincidence that people have questions about how a company this big works - to understand the thinking outside the box. And it’s not only a conversation here. Amazon workers in Germany have gone on strike over pay and the company is facing fierce resistance in France to the threat it poses the independent book trade.

Amazon responded to the BBC film with a lengthy statement and a series of videos of its happiest “associates”. Longer term, however, it may yet have to rethink it’s marketing strategy. For 15 years in this country Amazon has triumphed simply thanks to the convenience and reliability of its service. But it will have to do more now, in its tax dealings as well as working conditions, to maintain that confidence. Faceless drones probably aren’t the answer. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum