NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Amazon believes it may have the ability to anticipate consumer demand on a granular level – so much so, that it could actually begin shipping an order before you even buy it. The online retailer is working to refine predictive logistics in an effort to further shorten shipping times to customers. "Anticipatory package shipping" – a process patented by Amazon late last month – may become a part of that process.

By analyzing consumer data, such as prior orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping cart contents – and even cursor activity -- Amazon could predict a consumer's future purchase and move merchandise to a nearby fulfillment center in anticipation of a subsequent order.

By forecasting customer behavior, Amazon seeks to speed transit times to customers while utilizing lower-cost ground shipping rather than expedited methods "that may rival the price paid for the merchandise."

The patent details Amazon's motivation: "In many instances, the lowest-cost surface-based shipping options may take a week or longer from a customer's order date. Such delays may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants, particularly if those items are more readily available locally."

The patent describes the process as a "method and system" that may include packaging one or more items for eventually shipping to a particular address, without completely specifying the ultimate destination until the package is already in transit. Pending a completed transaction, the process could include:

  • 1. With an order, assignment of a specific destination while in transit, and delivery
  • 2. Without an order, redirection to another geographical area pending an order there
  • 3. With no order, determination of the potential costs of a return or further location redirect
  • 4. Still without an order, the offer of the merchandise to near-proximity customers at a discounted price
  • 5. Or without an order, "speculatively" shipped orders could be offered to near-proximity customers "as a promotional gift used to build goodwill."

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet