Mr McWilliam also revealed that British consumers still seemed to be in a “positive mindset”, despite the uncertainties caused by Brexit and potential price rises.
He was one of the keynote speakers at PwC’s retail breakfast briefing, which was held at the professional services firm’s Leeds office. The event provided an insight into the trends that are expected to dominate retailing in 2017.
During his presentation, Mr McWilliam, who left Amazon three weeks ago to pursue other business opportunities, said that “ultra-fast fulfilment” was set to be one of the dominant themes in retailing.
Last month, Amazon successfully completed the world’s first delivery by drone. The pilot-less plane delivered the order in less than half an hour in Cambridgeshire.
Speaking after his presentation, Mr McWilliam said: “There’s an awful lot we don’t yet know. But we know that drone technology is capable of getting a parcel from A to B very fast.
“There’s been a lot of development of drones in the UK. It’s good for consumers to be able to get products quickly and in rural areas, it’s obviously easier than it is in urban areas. I’m no longer at Amazon, so I can only speculate,’’ he added.
He said drones were able to absorb powerful data.
“So unlike a carrier, delivering a parcel, where you have got a driver who has only his own driving experience to go with, a drone can use billions of miles worth of history to know exactly how to fly from A to B in a very, very safe way.”
During his speech, Mr McWilliam said that British consumers were proving to be more resilient than some headline writers were giving them credit for.
Afterwards, he said: “I think retail has done a good job... Retail has been lowering prices for customers, and alongside that, (retail) has been investing in getting product to customers faster and faster.”
However, Mr McWilliam, who has also worked as finance director at Leeds-based Asda, said that retailers needed to be selective when it came to investing in their business.
He said: “You can’t invest in everything, so you have to decide what you are good at as a retailer, and probably double down on that and prioritise.
“I always find that if you keep the customer at the centre, then you’ll make good decisions about what to invest in.”
He said consumers still appeared to be feeling resilient.
He added: “I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that’s how it’s going to stay for the next year. But the start point is a pretty good one.”