Amazon wants to ship stuff to you before you buy it.
Turns out, it’s absolutely true. Amazon has actually patented a “Method and system for anticipatory package shipping”. The idea is to make a sales prediction, package the item, and ship it to a geographical destination. The physical address of the person ordering the item would be added en route, after s/he actually clicks “Buy”.
I got to thinking about it, and this actually makes a certain amount of sense. Amazon has a huge amount of date on what people buy and where they have it shipped. They can use that data to make predictions about who will buy what, at least on the general level.
Here’s how it might work, based on the patent: Using data from previous sales, Amazon predicts it can probably sell 1000 of Stephen King’s newest novel in the Burlington VT area within the first week of publication. (To avoid having too many unwanted copies circulating, maybe Amazon reduces that figure by 10 percent.) Amazon sends 900 copies of the book, each individually packaged and labeled with a unique identifier, to the “selected destination geographical area” — in this case, Burlington, VT. As the orders come in, the name and address to which each package should be shipped is sent, along with the unique identifier, to wherever the package is in the shipping stream. A label is slapped on the right package, and pfft! it heads off to the customer. Since it was already in transit when it was purchased, it may arrive within a day instead of two or three — possibly even on the same day, if the order is placed early enough in the morning.
|Diagram from Amazon’s anticipatory shipping patent
It’s not just new releases that could benefit from anticipatory shipping. Amazon’s sales data and customer information are good enough that they can probably predict how many of just about anything they’re likely to sell in a particular region in a given time frame.
There’s a certain amount of infrastructure that would need to be put in place. The shipping-and-delivery carrier would need to have excellent tracking capabilities as well as machines to to print customer-name-and-address labels almost anywhere along the route. But the proposal is certainly feasible, provided Amazon (A) can partner with a suitable carrier and (B) is willing to risk that some items will have to be sent back to Amazon undelivered. And the whole concept is very much in line with Amazon’s focus on getting the customer’s order to them faster — as witnessed by 2-day Prime shipping, their experiments with Sunday delivery, and their recent interest in drones.
Amazon has never been slow to implement a new idea if it seems likely to increase customer satisfaction and boost sales, and this approach will probably do both. Now that the patent has been granted, I expect to see Amazon using this system within a few years — maybe sooner.