Amazon’s Christmas present last year arrived just in time on December 24: a patent on a system for shipping a product before a customer orders it.
US Patent No. 8,615,473 claims:
A method and system for anticipatory package shipping are disclosed. According to one embodiment, a method may include packaging one or more items as a package for eventual shipment to a delivery address, selecting a destination geographical area to which to ship the package, 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.
Although it includes a long list of references, Amazon’s patent fails to cite Isaac Asimov’s 1948 faux-scientific paper “The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline,” in which he describes a compound that dissolves before it touches a solvent.
Amazon says that the increased speed of delivery is needed to appeal to consumers who would otherwise demand the instant gratification of buying something in an actual store.
In order to anticipate what customers might want next, and get it to them before they have time to head out to the local Best Buy or Barnes & Noble, Amazon can look at consumers’ purchase histories and browsing patterns, as well as online surveys they’ve completed. Items customers likely to buy can be offered at a personalized discount.
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. For example, if a given customer is particularly valued (e.g., 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.
Amazon has apparently not yet put its new patent to use.
Last year’s Christmas season was also marked by Amazon’s announcement that it was testing a system of delivering packages to customers via drone. Actual drone deliveries have not yet commenced.
Intellectual property may be valuable, but free publicity is priceless.