It's a growing trend among technology and consumer firms to anticipate consumers’ needs, even before consumers do. Witness appliances that tell you when they need repair, prescriptions filled a year in advance, smart televisions that predict which shows to record, and software that aims to predict users’ daily scheduling needs. Also the fact that customers say they want their package NOW, without any waiting after they've ordered it. Now comes anticipatory shipping or predictive shipping and Amazon is leading the charge, with patent in hand.
We know that Amazon has been working to cut delivery times, expanding its warehouse network to begin overnight and same-day deliveries. The new technique, according to Amazon thinking, could cut delivery time and, even more interesting, discourage consumers from visiting physical stores. (Amazon's words).
According to Wall Street Journal article, Amazon Wants to Ship Your Package Before You Buy It by Greg Bensinger, Amazon Technologies, Inc. was assigned a patent for Method and System For Anticipatory Package Shipping on December 24, 2013, described as follows:
(From the Abstract): A method and system for anticipatory package shipping are disclosed. According to one embodiment, a method may include packaging one or more items as a package for eventual shipment to a delivery address, selecting a destination geographical area to which to ship the package, shipping the package to the destination geographical area without completely specifying the delivery address at time of shipment, and while the package is in transit, completely specifying the delivery address for the package.
The patent demonstrates the way "Amazon hopes to leverage its vast trove of customer data to edge out rivals." Amazon says it may box and ship products it expects customers in a specific area will want – based on previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns, and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item — but haven’t yet ordered. According to the patent, the packages could wait at the shippers’ hubs or on trucks until an order arrives.
OK, so the intention is clear -- delivering packages even before customers click "buy." When I wrote blog posts including the video: "Amazon Yesterday Shipping Bends Time & Space" and "How Retailers Are Fighting Amazon For Same-Day-Delivery Success", I thought it was a brilliant parody. Then comes the actual patent for anticipatory shipping.
You can also watch this predictive parody about anticipatory shipping here:
Bottom Line For Your Anticipatory Shipping Bottom Line
Amazon was asked: What if the system is mistaken, prompting costly returns? To minimize those costs, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts, or convert the unwanted delivery into a gift. “Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill,” the patent said, according to Bensinger's article. That's a heckuva way to get unordered products into people's hands.
There were many interesting (and similar) reactions to Bensinger's article -- here are some of them summarized:
* Retailers are already doing the predictive thing.
* Amazon has no right to patent this activity.
* I would stop using Amazon if it uses this approach with me.
* Be careful where you leave your cursor resting -- Amazon may interpret it as a real desire for a product (even though you got up to get a drink of water, talk to a colleague, or use the rest room).
* Amazon doesn't necessarily have the lowest price any more anyway, so check competition carefully.
What do you think? I'd love to get your comments at our LinkedIn site, Competitive Pricing For Online Retail.