Alibaba Takes Amazon’s Drone PR Stunt To Next Level With Limited, 3-Day Pilot

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In a PR stunt reminiscent of Amazon’s Black Friday drone revelation in 2013, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has revealed that it is dabbling with drones with a teeny, tiny pilot program.

The online retailer is piloting drone-based-delivery for its Taobao service with a one-off, three day campaign in China, as Tech In Asia first reported.

It’s worth pointing out — again — that this is a seriously limited trial. Alibaba confirmed to TechCrunch that it is limiting the trial to just 450 packets of ginger tea, which will be delivered to specific parts of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — three of China’s biggest cities — within one hour of order on a first-come-first-service basis.

“This one-off campaign is an effort to bring unique and innovative shopping experiences to consumers on Alibaba’s e-commerce ecosystem,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

This campaign is clearly more about style than substance, but the fact that Alibaba — which, of course, held the world’s largest IPO last year — is testing drones is significant, and clearly a sign of the future — just don’t expect the firm to hit the switch for all deliveries any time soon.

Alibaba partnered with logistics firm YTO Express on this project, which isn’t the first trial in China. Parcel service company SF Express tested drone delivery back in 2013, while Australia was the first place to really trial drone-based delivery. A startup called Zookal began delivering text books via mini unmanned aerial vehicles back in October 2013.

Let us also not forget that Skycatch demonstrated a real-life TacoCopter that delivered Mexican Food at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013.