Thanks to a few irresponsible hobbyists, drones have had their share of controversy, and as a result the FAA has had to develop regulations around their personal use. But let's face it: Drones are a lot of fun, whether you're zipping around hundreds of feet in the air, or using its built-in camera to see the world in an entirely new way.
Until recently, regulatory uncertainty -- would the government compel all drone hobbyists to get licenses? (No) -- kept incentive companies from fully embracing them as merchandise offerings. But in June, the FAA clarified its stance
, requiring drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds be registered, and a handful of incentive companies have started aggressive marketing campaigns so their clients are aware of the possibilities. Hinda Incentives
offered its first drone -- an $80 unit from Skyrocket Toys -- during a 2015 holiday promotion. To the surprise of Jim Valenti, Hinda's director of merchandising and replenishment, the Chicago-based incentive fulfillment company sold 300 units.
"My expectations were kind of low, to be honest," Valenti said. Because the models Hinda offered are essentially toys, he was skeptical many people would gravitate toward them. Next holiday season, Hinda plans to expand its drone program with offerings from Vivitar and MukikiM -- but keeping within the roughly $80 price range.
Not surprisingly, many of the best-selling drones offered through incentive programs are entry-level products, though some companies, like Capitol Sales
, offers models from $90 all the way up to $300.
"The different ideas people are using them for are a lot of fun -- they've never seen their house from far above," said Stephen Konsor, senior vice president of sales for Egan, MN-based Capitol Sales Company, which recently started selling drones.
At the lower level are basic drones about the size of a dinner plate that simply hover and fly around. As the pricepoint edges up, the drones become capable of more complex maneuvers like flips, and have good cameras -- from about 5 megapixel resolution in the $100 range to models that have enough power to lug GoPros and other high quality, high definition cameras.
While not a lot of first-time drone owners start out with that $300 drone -- Konsor said $150 is Capitol's sweet spot -- he sees a lot of people getting sucked into the hobby.
"The guy that buys the $90 drone is coming back to buy the $300 one," he said. "So the drones will continue to go up in pricepoint."