Online and traditional brick and mortar customer fulfillment professionals should pay special attention to the recent news that Amazon has obtained a patent for what it describes as “anticipatory shipping”.

A posting on TechCrunch indicates that the patent was filed in August 2012 and granted in last December. Outlined is a process designed to cut delivery times by predicting what buyers are going to buy before that actually hit the buy button. Upon review of the process flow diagram included in the application, one can draw the conclusion that anticipated orders can be picked and packed and shipped to forward pre-staging hubs or continuous transportation resources awaiting the final consumer buy signal. We would speculate that it could even include pre-shipping to Amazon delivery lockers among certain cities, assuring same day or hourly delivery fulfillment.

The process analyzes various “business variables” including a consumer’s prior buying patterns, a highly anticipated product launch or anticipated seasonal or event related consumer consumption patterns. Various other reports indicate that Amazon process planners have incorporated the possibility that the final order from the consumer did not occur but was shipped anyway. In that case, the consumer may be offered a further discount to accept the merchandise.

Obviously, this process will have a high dependency on data-mining capabilities and highly predictive analytics demand prediction algorithms which should not be an obstacle for Amazon. As TechCrunch and business media has further concluded, it could represent the next breakthrough beyond one-button ordering introduced by Amazon in 1999.

Of more importance, a patent attached to this process locks out other online competitors from pursuing similar forms of online fulfillment automation and that should definitely raise eyebrows. Competitors, if they have not already, will have to come up with an alternative fulfillment process based on another patented method.

The shadow of Amazon on retail fulfillment continues to loom very large and all B2C fulfillment teams should continue to take note and plan accordingly.

What’s your view?  Do you believe this is a significant development? Will consumers ultimately embrace such a process?

Share your thoughts.

Bob Ferrari