Alibaba is using an army of drones for deliveries of online orders of tea in China. The site has launched a limited pilot program through its Taobao service, according to TechCrunch.

The online retailer, which held the world’s largest IPO last year, has just released a video that shows a thirsty customer desperate for a cup of tea. In the footage, she orders online, her packet of ginger brew is packed and attached to a drone, which then flies off to her aid in no time.

“Today, we find the answer to the imagination,” reads a translated press release on the Taobao website. Delivery takes an hour. Starting from the destination, direct consumer address. Staff will be pre-set destinations and routes. The UAV can automatically deliver. For consumers, from order to receipt, only one hour, this cool consumer experience give them more of a surprise,” it adds.

This is a small pilot project — a one off, three-day scheme, TechCrunch explains. Just 450 packets of ginger tea will be shipped by air to areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (three of China’s largest cities). And people will have to be quick to try it out because Taobao is operating on a first-come, first-served basis.

Chances are it’s simply an elaborate PR stunt — not dissimilar to what Amazon did of 2013, when Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon’s line of delivery drones that the company is testing.

Indeed, a company spokesman told TechCrunch that the “campaign is an effort to bring unique and innovative shopping experiences to consumers on Alibaba’s e-commerce system,” which very much sounds like PR spin.

Alibaba partnered with a logistics firm called YTO Express on the scheme, but it’s not the first of its kind in China. Parcel service company SF Express also trialed drone delivery there a couple of years ago.

By: Joshua Barrie, February 4, 2015 for Business Insider

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