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Amazon Just Patented Shipping Items Before They're Even Ordered

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Late last month, Amazon patented a process they've termed "anticipatory package shipping," in which products would be sent to fulfillment centers near the customers most likely to purchase them, before customers even order them.

In a bit of "Minority Report" meets Wal-Mart, the online retail giant could feasibly ship items before they're actually purchased, filling in the relevant details -- like a buyer's address, for instance -- at a later date.

"The patent's examples illustrate a speculative shipment system that deploys goods to specific geographical areas," Engadget explains. "If a customer in that area places an order that matches a nearby package, it would then be redirected to its final destination."

Which means the complete box-set of Monty Python's Flying Circus isn't going to arrive on your doorstep unannounced. It does mean, however, that Amazon may shuffle the product to a distribution center nearer you for faster fulfillment when you inevitably succumb to your love of British comedy and hit the "checkout" button.

Of course, Amazon wouldn't ship items ahead of time in the absence of clear demand for the product. To assess that demand, reports the Wall Street Journal, factors like a customer's previous orders, product searches, wish lists, returns and shopping cart data would all be taken into account. Shoppers who linger over an item with their mouse cursor may also attract Amazon's attention.

The anticipatory shipping is the latest development from Amazon that feels straight out of the future. In December, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon Prime Air on "60 Minutes," a fleet of delivery drones that could be available within 4 to 5 years.

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