In Brief: Amazon's Anticipatory Shipping Patent

By Norman Chan

Nothing really magical about it.

Shipping your next package even before you order it. That's the promise of Amazon's Anticipatory Shipping plan, for which the merchant received a patent last December. But this isn't some Minority Report technology; it's just smarter use of customer data and Amazon's vast supply channels. Here's how it'll work. According to the Wall Street Journal's report, Amazon will take into account data such as "previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item" to preemptively package and distribute goods to local distribution centers and even shipping trucks while Amazon waits for customers to actually place an order on that item. It's just a fancy way of reorganizing their inventory, with the risk of products being misallocated if shoppers don't act according to Amazon's prediction algorithms. The whole idea of spreading their inventory further out into the delivery chain--from centralized warehouses to the last mile--is scalable, so Amazon can tweak its anticipatory risks based on how successful its models become. It's akin to a product manufacturer ramping up supply at times of the year when it knows its products are in high demand. So really, nothing sinister or magical about it.