Amazon reportedly granted patent for what company calls 'anticipatory shipping'--sending products it expects customers will want, based on previous orders, product searches, shopping cart contents, returns, other online shopping practices

, January 21, 2014 () – Online retail giant Amazon says it knows its customers so well, it can start shipping even before orders are placed.

The company, which last year said it wants to use unmanned drones to speed package delivery, gained a patent last month for what it calls "anticipatory shipping," The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend.

Amazon, according to a story in the Journalonline, says it may box and ship products that it expects customers in a specific area will want, based on previous orders and other factors it gleans from its customers' shopping patterns, even before they place an online order.

Among those other factors: previous orders; product searches; wish lists; shopping cart contents; returns; and other online shopping practices.

Amazon has worked to cut delivery times as a way of encouraging more orders and satisfying customers, such as by expanding its warehouse network and making some overnight and even same-day deliveries.

Amazon reportedly didn't estimate how much delivery time it expects to save, or whether it has already put its new system to work.

"It appears Amazon is taking advantage of their copious data," Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst, told the Journal. "Based on all the things they know about their customers, they could predict demand based on a variety of factors."

To minimize the cost of unwanted returns, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts or even making the delivered item a gift.

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