SHANGHAI — JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce player overall and largest direct-to-consumer online marketplace, will build 150 drone bases in southwest Sichuan province by 2020.
According to JD.com chief executive officer Richard Liu, the bases will reduce freight delivery costs by as much as 70 percent in the mountainous province of Sichuan and will allow local products to reach their destinations within 24 hours.
The company first experimented with drone delivery in 2016 and used drones to deliver packages weighing up to 50 kilograms (about 110 pounds) during last year’s major Singles’ Day sales festival from four existing drone bases on the outskirts of Beijing, and in Jiangsu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces.
“With JD drones, freight cost in rural areas can be lowered to the same level as Beijing and Shanghai,” Liu said last year when speaking of the initial drone delivery experiment. “Rural villagers can enjoy the same high quality of service as living in Beijing and Shanghai.”
According to domestic media reports, Liu last week met with Sichuan party secretary Wang Dongming and told him that drones with a capacity to deliver packages up to 500 kilograms were also in development.
This base rollout is part of a broader collaboration between JD.com and the Sichuan government to develop drone technology. The company has a similar agreement with the government of nearby Shaanxi province.
Last month, JD.com posted a 47 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenue, helping it to shrink its full-year losses by 63 percent and beating analysts’ expectations.
The e-commerce operator posted a net loss for 2016 of 3.5 billion yuan ($500 million), down from the 9.4 billion yuan ($1.4 billion) the year before. That was on full-year net revenues of 260.2 billion yuan ($37.5 billion), representing a 44 percent increase from 2015.