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In the past 12 months (ending April 2016), drone sales in the USA have grown 224 percent year-over-year to nearly $200 million, according to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. Over the past six months (ending April 2016), sales growth has accelerated to more than four times higher than the same time period last year*.

Drones with 4K cameras accounted for more than one-third of dollar sales in the 12 months ending April 2016, while drones with built-in GPS accounted for 64 percent of revenue. Additionally, drones with an average price greater than $500 accounted for 56 percent of dollar sales in that same time period. The average drone sold for more than $550 in April, giving drones one of the highest average prices of all categories in technology at retail.

“The drone category is continuing to take shape as new products and features such as 4K cameras, Bluetooth and built-in GPS, reveal an expanding range of use cases. The market is maturing in that respect,” said Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst for The NPD Group. “The continued interest around unmanned aerial systems and an expanding retail footprint point to a strong 2016 and 2017 as a result.”

*Source: The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service

At his keynote at the Drone Dealer Expo, Ben Arnold from NDP made the point that drones were one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary consumer camera market. The success of 4K cameras supports that argument – let’s get a drone instead of the new __. Of course, 4K also hits the prosumer sweet spot where people might make a buck or two without worrying too much about a 333.
Looking at the sales rankings is interesting. Protocol is the very low end of the market and the Parrot offering is right on the $500 average. It is surprising to see that Yuneec has overtaken 3DR which again suggests that a big segment of the retail market is extremely price sensitive. Also perhaps the difference between being sold in a box store and a specialty shop – especially for first-time buyers.
The headline in The Fiscal Times covering this story noted that The Federal Aviation Administration’s registration rule in December did nothing to slow sales. During the 2015 holidays, the number of drone sales jumped 445 percent compared to 2014. In December alone, sales were up 273 percent.
So much for the handwringing. Well maybe not.
UPDATE A lot of drone retailers are apparently experiencing substantial declines in sales. In his keynote address at sUSB Expo 2016 (late May 2016), Patrick Egan quoted Cliff Whitney, the owner of Atlanta Hobby who stated that the small hobby shop association he belongs to has seen “a 70% reduction in RC aircraft sales since the FAA announced their registration policy last October.
The question is, can drones 3-peat this Christmas? Or will the ever-fickle consumer have moved on to the next shiny object?  Which come to think of it might be a
good thing…

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