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.