Amazon wins patent for ship-before-you-buy system

Amazon has been awarded a patent for a new system that ships potential purchases to your area before you've even ordered them.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Amazon has been awarded a patent for a new system that ships potential purchases to your area even before you've ordered them, based on your purchase history.

(Credit: Amazon España por dentro image by Álvaro Ibáñez, CC BY 2.0)

Amazon believes that, with your purchase history, it can predict your buying habits before you do — and can have your package in transit before you've even made an order. The company has been awarded a patent for a system designed to have your items in your hands at record speeds.

Called "Method and system for anticipatory package shipping", the patent describes a system whereby the company anticipates your buying habits and sends your packages to the closest delivery hub, waiting for the order to arrive, or, in some cases, even shipping directly to your door.

(Credit: Amazon)

To anticipate what you might order, Amazon will look at your purchase history and browsing patterns, as well as surveys and questionnaires you've completed, to determine your interests, cross-referencing to predict what items you're likely to buy. Then, once interest has been determined, that item can then be offered at a personalised discount.

There is, of course, margin for error — for example, a package that gets shipped to the customer without the customer ever placing an order. In those cases, Amazon — rather than incurring the cost of having the item returned — may offer the item as a gift to valuable customers.

"In some instances, the package may be delivered to a potentially interested customer as a gift rather than incurring the cost of returning or redirecting the package," the patent reads. "For example, if a given customer is particularly valued (according to past ordering history, appealing demographic profile, etc), delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill."

As we have already seen in the case of the Kindle e-reader, Amazon is willing to operate at a loss if it builds customer loyalty and repeat business. However, we have also seen that the company may be willing to overstate its capabilities in order to garner free publicity — so we're not quite willing to bank on the arrival of anticipatory shipping just yet.