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

Junior Software Developer - Newcastle, Tyne & Wear - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer / J...

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Girls were by far the most worried about their appearance, the survey found  

English children are among the unhappiest in the world – we are failing them

Natasha Devon
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron’s Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering