Alibaba one-ups Amazon with drone-delivered tea

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The Alibaba Group began testing drone delivery through its e-commerce site Taobao, bring tea to 450 doorsteps within an hour. Photo: Taobao.com
The Alibaba Group began testing drone delivery through its e-commerce site Taobao, bring tea to 450 doorsteps within an hour. Photo: Taobao.com

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is redefining high tea.

Drones are taking to the skies in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to deliver tea to a test group of 450 shoppers using Alibaba’s website Taobao. The three-day trial of drone delivery service in the Chinese cities ends Friday as Alibaba continues to push its might across the globe.

The highly publicized tea deliveries challenge Alibaba’s biggest competitor, Amazon, which announced in 2013 it was researching drone shipping. Tired of waiting for Federal Aviation Administration approval to waive airspace restrictions for testing, Amazon said in December it may have to test its drones outside the United States.

Taobao is exploring ways to speed up delivery service. The tea, which would normally take a few days to arrive at a buyer’s home, has been shipping in about an hour during drone testing, according to the BBC.

Taobao would have you believe shipping is so fast, you could order the tea online, get the water boiling and have it delivered by the time the kettle whistles. At least that’s how Taobao depicts the speed of delivery in a YouTube video released by the website.

The tea is being sent along predetermined routes and only a specific ginger tea is being delivered to limit a package’s maximum weight, the BBC reported.

“Today we find the answer to the imagination,” Taobao said on its blog Wednesday. “We want to try something never tried before. This cool consumer experience (will) give them more of a surprise.”

The blog does not say how Taobao next plans to test unmanned aerial vehicles for delivery.

Alibaba could be considered the biggest online commerce company, with hundreds of millions of users across three shopping sites, according to The Wall Street Journal. Transactions last year totaled $248 billion and it became the world’s fourth-largest tech firm after raising $25 billion from its U.S. IPO.