All posts by Lucy Ingham

Amazon knows what you’re going to order

The internet has changed the way we buy things forever, but if Amazon has anything to do with it this is just the beginning. The megaretailer has filed a patent for something its calling “anticipatory shipping”; an algorithm-based technology that starts shipping you goods before you’ve even ordered them.

This might sound like something out of Minority Report, but Amazon’s vast collection of user data enables it to predict consumer demand with a fair level of accuracy. By combining information such as your wish list, previous orders or shopping basket contents with creepier data such as how long your cursor hovers over certain items, the company could anticipate what you want before you even click ‘buy’.

This could involve shipping certain popular products to specific areas before leaving them at nearby depots or on delivery trucks until a customer decides to buy. By then, the product would have already made most of the journey so wouldn’t have far to go to complete its journey.

In theory, this technology could be great for shoppers; imagine if while browsing you saw that the latest box set or headphones you wanted were in your area and available for delivery within hours. But it could go horribly wrong – if the algorithm’s predictions are off Amazon could wind up with a stack of products in the wrong part of its delivery chain and would be forced to discount or gift them to shift the excess.

Equally, companies need to be very careful about using prediction technologies on consumers. This approach can be really exciting to use, with the most successful example being Google Now, which can predict your behavior based on past activities with a surprising level of accuracy.

But if a company’s practices creep you out you’re far less likely to want to use it, even if it’s offering you attractive delivery options on a product you want. It’s all about making the service feel helpful without being invasive, and we’re betting this is something Amazon is pretty good at.

This patent is the latest plan by Amazon to eliminate the last barrier to total retail domination: shipping times. While online retailers have lured a lot of us away from physical shops thanks to factors such as price, the benefit of having an item as soon as you purchase it is the one advantage physical shops have over online stores.

But it seems like Amazon is hell-bent on changing this, with same-day deliveries already implemented in many areas and plans for drone deliveries underway. The company hasn’t said how much time it thinks anticipatory shipping will save, but rest assured if it can shave time off the delivery, it will.

We’re not convinced about anticipatory shipping being the complete solution, but sooner or later a technology will arrive that gives online orders near-instantaneous shipping times, and when that happens online retail’s domination will be complete.


Image courtesy of Luke Dorny.


Why has Google spent $2bn on a smoke alarm company?

Google is expanding its tech empire with the £2bn ($3.2bn) purchase of Nest – a home technology company.

The staggeringly expensive purchase is bound to cause a stir in the race to use gadgets to enhance and make our lives easier.

Nest is currently leading the way in developing products to automate the home. It has two products on the market and hundreds of filed patents for future development.

The company claims its flagship thermostat is intuitive and will learn your habits after you set it manually a few times – it could intelligently warm the house before you get home from work.

Google’s buy is the latest in the ever-lucrative ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) movement, which is seeing automation of everyday tasks in an attempt to make our lives easier.

In the run up to acquisition the search giant will have looked at its competitors and realised it was falling behind in the automation stakes.

LG is already ahead of the curve having released its smart fridge, which will send a text message if you are out of milk. Meanwhile Microsoft has been working on a project since 2010 that aims to simplify connections between the management of electronic gadgets in the home.

For Google it is important to be seen as at the forefront of home technology and innovation. The willingness to stump up £2bn for a company not many people will have heard of shows how much value it places on automating our lives.

Products such as Google Glass, the wearable headset, give an indication of its ambition to embed technology into everyday life.

But the latest innovation isn’t the only consideration for customers when they’re deciding on what level of responsibility to give computers. Privacy issues continue to be raised about the amount of data we are giving companies about our lives.

Telling Google and Nest what time the heating is turned on (and off) lets them know about our routines, tells them how much time we are spending out of the house and indicates how much energy we are using. The more data about our lives the companies have the easier it is for them to target us with advertising.

While we are all for technology making our lives easier it’s reassuring that Nest co-founder Matt Rodgers quickly jumped to address privacy concerns writing on the company’s blog: “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”


Image courtesy of Nest.