Shopper Alert! Amazon shipping before you buy?

By | 2014-01-19

Headline: “Amazon Is Working On ‘Anticipatory Shipping’ To Mail Items Before Customers Actually Buy Them”

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been searching online for a few things I may eventually wind up buying. I know for a fact that Google noticed. Every one of the sites I go to now is filled with ads to constantly remind me of  the various brands and sellers of gourmet gas grills, telescope eyepieces and other gadgetry that has caught my attention recently.

Every company that’s analyzing their ‘big fast data’ knows what’s trending where in near realtime. Amazon notices things too. Apparently, Amazon thinks they’re onto a clever idea, so they patented it. They think they should just ship me things I’m ‘stalking’, I mean ‘shopping for’, on their site. Hey, if it’s on their dime, why not?

I just had a blast from the past. Remember the old days, before music streaming and downloading eBooks? When BMG, Columbia House or a book of the month club shipped you 12 of your favorite cassettes, CDs, Dr. Seuss books or Learn How to Read flash cards – for free. They mailed you a form. You told them what you liked, then they basically guessed what else you might want, and shipped you one or two every month. The freebies came along with an obligation to buy so many more. I’m curious, was that the first recurring revenue subscription model?

Then began the seamlessly never ending cycle of ship, open, reseal and return, with an occasional keep. Sometimes they also sent a ‘bonus item’. Maybe they sent everyone the same thing. I never thought to ask. They just shipped me things and I opened them. On occasion, I didn’t return them before the deadline. That meant I had to pay for something I didn’t want, simply because it was inconvenient not to.  Now, I have several hundred CDs and remember every one I didn’t intend to have. Of course, they’re in storage because I ‘ripped’ them all into iTunes. Even on ‘shuffle play’, I’ve honestly NEVER listened to Ann Murray – As I Am or Backstreet Boys – Millennium. The Time Life Discovery Samplers did expand my scope of interest and Tom Petty – Wildflowers turned out to be a pretty good listen too. They shipped me things I didn’t intend to buy and I happily paid for them.

I suppose that’s a viable new business model for Amazon. Think back, what did they start out as? An online book store. They know the model will work for books because people tend to stick with a genre or favorite author. Why not just ship one out? I can see how that would work out well. Why not expand it a little. Music. Check. Same model, but that’s a download now, best handled with an email and a one-click buy. Imagine where else it might work. If you buy things that need refilling, like printer ink, vitamins or razor blades, why not just ship a set at your known interval? If you’re a Prime member and frequent buyer, they could just send you popular things people like you buy and hope you’ll keep some. Maybe an upgraded version of what you use, or one that has a better cost/profitability model for them? If you don’t want them, maybe you’ll regift them to someone else. Most likely, you’ll just pay the bill because you’ll use them eventually anyway.

This is getting interesting. Back to my recent shopping. I do not want to put together that gas grill when it’s freezing cold outside. Even though I thoroughly enjoy appreciating the night sky with new eyepieces, I don’t take my telescope outside because there are no deep sky objects to be seen here because of light pollution. But I still want them. If either showed up at my door step I would have serious thinking to do. It would be a serious pain to return a grill. I’d keep it.

Check plus Amazon, check plus. I’d call this a Big Idea.

Now, imagine this. You’re shopping at your favorite big box store and don’t like the price on something that catches your eye. Do you just walk away? No. You take out your smartphone, do a quick search, probably on Amazon, to make sure the price isn’t out of line. You liked it, or you wouldn’t have taken the time to comparison shop. Noticing that someone likes something is a trigger that gets sellers excited. Why wouldn’t Amazon just ship you one, right at that moment?

Let’s say you did opt to buy one while you were at store, or from some other online source and you end up with two after receiving the one Amazon preemptively shipped you. Which do you return? If Amazon can position for best price most of the time, they may not even need to cover the return shipping cost!

Let’s look at it from another angle. Maybe they’ll pre-deliver a local area’s most popular searched-for and bought items to the Amazon storage lockers that are located at 7 Elevens and Dunkin’ Donuts here in Philly. Imagine that. Stocking a locker in a convenience store with the things Amazon KNOWS people near it want to buy. Now that’s convenient!

See this WSJ article for more details.

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