Amazon: retail giant, psychic extraordinaire

That’s my reaction to the news that Amazon plans to ship items it thinks you’ll like before you’ve even clicked on the purchase button. (Just the phrase, “it thinks”, is sort of enough to scare.) In addition to drone delivery, it recently filed a patent for “anticipatory shipping”, a system that allows Amazon to ship items to shipping hubs in areas where it believes said item will sell fast, cutting delivery time and getting ever closer to translating the instant gratification we get online to the real world.

Amazon plans to box and ship products it expects customers to buy preemptively, based on previous searches and purchases, wish lists, and how long the user’s cursor hovers over an item online. The company may even go so far as to load products onto trucks and have them “speculatively shipped to a physical address” without having a full addressee. Such a scenario might lead to unwanted deliveries and even returns, but Amazon seems willing to take the hit, stating in the patent, “Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill.”

I love Amazon for the lengths it goes to satisfy the consumer, while also being quite terrified of by the scale of its efforts. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that this is granted a patent – I imagine there’s some proprietary technology Amazon has developed for itself using its data, but as a process, retailers have been doing it from Day One. What it really means, of course, is once Amazon starts matching supply with real demand and is reliably offering the best prices, there should be little reason for big box stores to exist. (There are also many reasons why that reality may not pan out.) But we have a ways to go.




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