What's next for Amazon shipping?

Sunday shipping, drones, "anticipatory" will Amazon top itself?

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
January 24, 2014
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E-commerce accounts for a relatively small chunk of the U.S. retail pie, but online retail is growing at an unprecedented pace. More people than ever before are shopping online. Notably, the holiday season saw the largest increase in online shopping in history, with shoppers spending $46.5 billion online between November 1 and December 31, 2013. That’s up 10% over last year and it doesn’t even include mobile shopping.

And yet, e-commerce still only accounts for approximately one out of every 10 U.S. retail dollars spent. Consumers spent a grand total of $601.8 billion over the holidays. To be fair, that’s a growth rate of just 3.8% while online holiday shopping grew 10% in 2013.

But the fact is that there are still things that we need brick-and-mortar stores for. Like how I predictably and routinely run out of toothpaste and only realize when I’ve thrown the empty tube away that we don’t have a backup. Or how I always, always forget my mother’s birthday until the day OF her birthday, and then I have to make a mad dash to get her a gift that looks like I’ve put a lot of thought into it.

But e-commerce companies are getting ahead of this very problem with online retail and shipping times. Amazon, notably, has made several strides in this area, starting with its partnership with the U.S. Postal Service to start shipping packages on Sunday. For now, the full seven-day delivery service is only available in Los Angeles and New York metropolitan areas, but it will gradually roll out to more cities in 2014, starting with Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Phoenix.

And then Amazon ramped things up even more by teasing its new project: Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery service that isn’t even legal yet. The petite little remote-controlled aircrafts can deliver packages of up to five pounds as far away as 10 miles round-trip. Bezos calls the drones “octocopters” and says that packages could be delivered in as little as 30 minutes. The strict weight and distance limits seem like they would be pretty constraining factors, but evidently, Amazon could ship some 86% of its orders by drone.

And then…Amazon upped the ante even more. Yes. It turned things up to 11. How? With a patent on “anticipatory shipping.” At some point in the not-too-distant future, Amazon will box up items it expects you to order (based on previous purchases, wish lists, and even how long your cursor hovers over an item), put them on a truck, and send them in your direction. The upshot is that you may get your items within minutes of placing your order. The downside: you might get items that you don’t want.

Amazon is actually really okay with this and will happily take the loss in the name of fostering “goodwill” with its customers.

So what comes next? How will Amazon top “anticipatory shipping”?

My guess: Coercive shipping.

I predict that one day, you’ll be sitting at home, enjoying a relaxing afternoon with Animal Planet, feeling totally content and fulfilled in your purchases for the week, when suddenly…you’ll get a knock at the door. You’ll open it only to get a face-full of mace as the UPS driver spirals a package into your house and yells “a message from Don Bezos!”

You’ll try to return the package and you’ll find a severed horse head in your bed. Then you’ll have to live in fear every time you start your car. 


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