Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press
Call it pre-shipment. Amazon patented a way to send people products before they buy them. This way, by anticipating what you will purchase, you will order something and have it arrive sooner — because it is already on the way.
Natasha Lomas at AOL Tech describes the process: "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)."
So, imagine Amazon anticipates interest in, say, a Harry Potter prequel. By analyzing who bought Harry Potter books before, it could start the shipments before they were actually purchased — getting them closer to the anticipated buyers.
Or maybe it uses ESP or stole a TARDIS or something or, as it claims, uses an algorithm.
But what if it messes up?
Lomas says the patent suggests Amazon may deliver the product anyway as a gift because in some instances it may be more expensive to return it.
Or it could show up and be like a private sale. The pitch could be: "Hey, you didn't order this, but we thought you would, so would you like to buy it anyway at a discount?"
"Which could either be a great surprise or hideously inappropriate — depending on how good an oracle Amazon's algorithm turns out to be," Lomas says. "Inappropriate like delivering a DIY Will pack to someone who has already died, say. Or kids toys to bereaved parents."
Hal Bundrick at MainStreet says Amazon will analyze "consumer data, such as prior orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping cart contents — and even cursor activity."
But why would Amazon do this? The patent says because an order may take a week or longer to ship, many customers decide to just buy it locally and get it quicker. Amazon doesn't want to lose those customers who can't wait that long. Solution, get it to them quicker by anticipating who will buy what when.
Chris Morran at The Consumerist says, "So it's less like mind-reading and more like the restaurant who knows you order the veal every Tuesday when you come by at 6:30, so it has everything ready to go. The idea is ultimately to save Amazon money on shipping. Think of all the money it spends on one- or two-day air-shipping. If the company could bulk-ship predicted purchases to local distribution centers, that to-the-home delivery would be via cheaper ground shipping. In some cases, depending on customers' proximity to a local center, same-day delivery is both logistically and financially feasible for Amazon."
Imagine if you look at an item on Amazon and it says it can be delivered in one day. Cool.
But imagine how "Twilight Zone" it would be to order something on Amazon and the website says, "Item shipped three days ago." Creepy.
What's next, delivering things by unmanned drones?