BEIJING: Fulfilment, a key challenge for e-commerce businesses, is breaking new ground in China, where one billion parcels are expected to be shipped by high-speed train in the wake of Singles' Day and where drone deliveries will soon be a reality.
Tmall, the retail platform owned by Alibaba, reported that it received 657m orders on Friday, worth more than $17.6bn, while rival JD.com said its transaction volume was 59% up on last year.
Delivering these purchases to consumers is a major logistical exercise – the commercial logistics industry is worth nearly 11 trillion yuan and accounted for 16% of GDP last year, according to the National Development and Reform Commission – with new avenues being explored.
According to China Railway Corp, 170 of its bullet trains will be used for express delivery between November 11 and 20, shifting twice as many parcels as last year to 505 cities on its network – a development that it expects will become the norm for the logistics industry, China Daily reported.
While such conventional transport methods will continue to account for the bulk of e-commerce order fulfilment, JD.com is claiming a global first with a drone delivery service.
Spokesman Josh Gartner told the South China Morning Post that the company now had government permission to operate drones capable of delivering packages weighing 5-15kg over a distance of 50km.
"I don't think anyone else is doing this [drone delivery service]," Gartner said, adding that JD.com planned to have its 30-strong fleet in operation on more than 100 routes in the first half of 2017.
These will be in rural areas, with orders being dispatched from regional delivery stations to "village promoters", who then redistribute orders directly to customers.
The drones are connected to JD.com's logistics network, with devices able to take off automatically and follow a set route to a designated drop-off point in a village.
Data sourced from China Daily. South China Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff