Amazon plans to ship your goods before you order them


Web sales to peak on Cyber Monday

Amazon believes it knows what you want before you ask for it, and has patented a process for shipping goods out to distribution centres in anticipation.

The idea is to cut delivery times by making sure that products are as close as possible to the buyer before the order is placed. It could work particularly well, says the company, for popular new books or DVDs.

The patent, titled 'Anticipatory Package Shipping', was granted in December. It describes "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." This would, it says, allow " packages to begin flowing towards potential customers in advance of actual orders."

The system would work out what people were likely to order by examining a series of variables - a customer's previous buying patterns, product searches and wish lists, for example. Even letting a mouse hover over a particular item might raise a flag.

The patent is just the latest in a series of futuristic technologies that Amazon's been bandying about. In December, CEO Jeff Bezos outlined plans for 'Amazon Prime Air' - a delivery method involving thousands of unmanned delivery drones. And it's been working particularly hard to improve delivery times, expanding its network of warehouses and trialling same-day and Sunday deliveries.

The patent forms part of a growing trend towards trying to predict a consumer's every need - and satisfy those needs immediately. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, for example, delegates were shown a fridge from LG that can text its owner when it's running out of milk.

Meanwhile, music services such as Pandora allow users to create their own online radio station, with new tracks selected on the basis of their previously-expressed preferences.

Possibly the best aspect for customers of Amazon's latest system is its plans for when it gets something wrong. Sometimes, when an order fails to materialise, it might not be cost-effective to return the item to base. In this case, the patent suggests, "Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill." It certainly might.