Amazon has attained a patent for "anticipatory shopping," a system designed to cut delivery times by predicting what buyers are going to buy before they buy it.
According to the patent filed late last month, the system may box and ship product it expects customers in a specific area will want before the items are even ordered. Beyond local demographic data, the locations would be based on assorted customer data, including previous purchases, product searches, wish lists, shopping cart contents, and returns. The amount of time a user holds a cursor over a product may also be taken into account.
"It appears Amazon is taking advantage of their copious data," Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst, told the Wall Street Journal. "Based on all the things they know about their customers they could predict demand based on a variety of factors."
Once in transit, the packages would theoretically wait at the shippers' or Amazon's warehouse hubs or on trucks until (and if) an order arrives. In some cases, partial street addresses or zip codes will be filled out with the remaining pertinent details — name, rest of address — completed once the order arrives.
The patent asserts the system would help same-day delivery for popular books or other items that customers should want the day they are released, the Journal points out. Items could also be suggested to likely buyers while in transit.
But reducing delivery time by starting the delivery process earlier was said to be the biggest benefit. Amazon has been expanding its warehouse network to support overnight and even same-day deliveries. It isn't known whether Amazon has already tested predictive shipping.
The patent also included pages of scenarios around re-routing packages.
Wrote Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch, "At times the language of the patent sounds as if Amazon is thinking of physical item delivery in the way a utility might approach supplying water or electricity to homes — by forecasting demand spikes and lulls, and tweaking its pipeline accordingly, but above all by keeping the stuff flowing (ergo having trucks constantly filled with packages in continuous perpetual motion)."
In some cases where the demand prediction algorithm fails, the patent suggests that Amazon could provide customers discounts or present the customer with a surprise gift "to build goodwill" in order to avoid costly returns.
The system could be potentially licensed to others. TechCrunch notes that Amazon requires other e-commerce to license one-click buying, a technology it patented in 1999.
What do you think of the potential of anticipatory shipping to transform online shopping?