Amazon is considering a new phase in it quest for global commerce domination. They're working a plan that would ship products to you before you even purchase them because Amazon knows what you want better than you do.
That's general idea behind a new patent for "anticipatory shipping" discovered by The Verge that outlines a weird pre-cognition-like system that Amazon plans to implement to trim delivery times. Amazon will ship products to different areas of the country based on the shopping habits of the people who live there. The new system will use "previous searches and purchases, wish lists, and how long the user's cursor hovers over an item online," to determine where the products will go, The Verge explains.
This all means Amazon can put something on a truck and have it "speculatively shipped to a physical address," the patent says. The slides at right explain how that would normally work. Products that regularly sell in different areas are shipped to those areas more often, because they will sell. But sometimes, the patent goes on to explain, Amazon will ship products to your door whether or not you actually purchased anything. Sometimes Amazon will ship something to a particular area, then find someone shopping for that product online and offer the product at a discounted rate. It's already there, so they have to sell it, right? In another scenario, Amazon is willing to risk that you won't be too upset when another slowcooker arrives at your doorstep — whether or not you actually purchased the slowcooker. The company hopes you'll return it, pay for it, or take the gift and come back for more business later. "Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill," the patent says.
Amazon is now entering a new space in the shopping universe, where data takes the decision making out of everyone's hands. How Amazon plans to account for people who go shopping late at night when the last bottle of wine is empty and a $14 body bag seem like too good a deal to pass up is unclear. Now we may have to pay the price even if you're sober enough to not the press the "check-out" button.
Currently there's no plan to implement this system into Amazon's current set-up. But we can definitely see it happening and it's a little spooky how much Amazon wants to integrate itself into our lives. Predicting our purchases based on something as minute as how long our cursor hovers over a product is the kind of meta-data collection that people should maybe get upset over. When you also consider that Amazon wants to take over the Post Office on Sundays, use drones instead of trucks, the extent to which Amazon might someday control our lives should be something to think carefully about. Maybe we all need a little space between the hyper-intelligent Internet giant and our daily lives.
But we could also use new bathmats delivered to our apartments in ten minutes with the press of a button because we're too lazy to leave the house. That would be nice too.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.