Amazon Patents Method For Shipping You Things Before You Order Them

Regular Amazon shoppers are probably quite familiar with the e-tailer’s e-mail blasts that highlight things you might want based on previous purchases and the things you’ve searched for on the site. But what if Amazon went one step further and actually predicted the things you will buy and shipped them in advance?

The online giant applied for just such a patent back in Aug. 2012, and the U.S. Patent folks granted the patent last month, on Christmas Eve of all days.

The patent outlines the many, many ways in which Amazon’s “Anticipatory Package Shipping” could expedite the shipping process by getting items it believes customers will order to nearby distribution centers in advance of their being ordered.

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, especially for Amazon Prime customers in order to make delivery dates. 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.

So if Amazon sees a big video game title coming up for release and its computers figure out that there are certain customers who are likely to order release-day delivery of new titles, it may pre-ship enough copies to local centers so that they can be delivered via ground transport rather than Amazon having to pay for express delivery from one of its main distribution centers.

Among the many things that gets factored into the process is the cost for returning pre-shipped items to the warehouse. In some cases, it may just be less expensive to give some items away “as a promotional gift used to build goodwill” than it would to return them.

Just for fun, here are some diagrammatic explanations of possible scenarios from the patent (click on any image for full size):
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Amazon Patents “Anticipatory” Shipping — To Start Sending Stuff Before You’ve Bought It [TechCrunch]

Amazon May Predict and Ship Your Next Order Before You Buy It [MainStreet]

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  1. Raekwon says:

    This is actually really smart and way different than most headlines about this would lead one to believe.

  2. SirJanes says:

    Is this a really big difference from old print magazine subscriptions? ” […] of the month clubs” like books, cheese etc?

    Didn’t Omaha Steaks do this decades ago?

  3. KyMann says:

    We were doing this in the 1970s!

    We manufactured machines which needed replacement seals at regular intervals, and a couple of parts could be easily broken by inept maintenance people. Being located in the Midwest, our customers on the coasts and deep South had to wait three days or pay for overnight delivery.

    There were companies which would warehouse our items for the outrageous rate of something like $0.80 per linear foot of shelf space per year. We’d ship them a box full of ready-to-mail packages and they put it on the shelf. When a customer ordered something, we’d call, they’d pull out a package, write the address on the label, and trot it over to the mail processing center (and charged us about $0.25 for the service).

    Most of the time, the customer got it the next day. We saved on warehouse costs at our plant, and one person sitting in the office could handle the same volume as three people on the shipping floor.

    I think UPS or FedEx (or both) offer such services today.

  4. furiousd says:

    What I’d like to see (as a self-proclaimed cheapskate) is when Amazon has sent too many things to a nearby warehouse and I get recommendations of things to buy at an even deeper discount or possibly as a “same-day delivery” promotional so I know it’s been stocked nearby

  5. nomdeweb says:

    Oh look, Amazon has patented branch prediction. A concept developed by computer engineers to speed up execution time of CPUs decades ago.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branch_predictor