Amazon knows what you want before you do

With the latest news from Amazon (via the Wall Street Journal), I’m convinced the day is coming that I’m going to wake up in a pair of pajamas that I never ordered and never knew I wanted.

Because see, Amazon knows what we want before we even know.

A number of sites — here and here and here — have followed the Journal story, which explains that the digital superstore landed a patent last month for a system called “anticipatory shipping.”

Basically, that means Amazon figures out what you’re going to order based on what you’ve ordered in the past, what’s on your wish list and even how long your cursor hovers over a certain product. Once it’s got that figured out, it can package the goods up, load them on trucks and send them in your general direction.

“The patent exemplifies a growing trend among technology and consumer firms to anticipate consumers’ needs, even before consumers do,” the Journal reports. “Today, there are refrigerators that can tell when it’s time to buy more milk, smart televisions that predict which shows to record and Google’s Now software, which aims to predict users’ daily scheduling needs.”

The system, which the Journal says Amazon may or may not be using right now, also spells more potential trouble for brick and mortar stores, which saw their in-store sales take a beating over the holiday period.

The whole point of Amazon predicting what you want and then massing consumer goods on the edge of your neighborhood while it waits for your final click, is to get you your stuff faster. That lessens the appeal of the one big differentiators for real stores — the ability to instantly hand you your item.

The Journal points out that the system does increase the likelihood that consumers are going to start getting stuff that they never ordered, and didn’t particularly want. (After all, look at all the wacky suggestions you get from the site about stuff you might want, particularly if you frequently buy gifts for others through Amazon.)

But Amazon  has a plan for that, too, the Journal says: The retailer might offer discounts on the mis-delivered items (so you can get what you don’t want for less) or simply give the wayward item to the consumer. Free stuff.

My guess concerning Amazon’s next leap forward: We’re all going to be getting stuff we don’t want delivered by flying drones that follow us home from work.

Can’t wait.

(Photo: Amazon’s prototype delivery drone, courtesy of Amazon via the Associated Press.)



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