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Amazon patents caches for physical goods

'Anticipatory package shipping' is probably also pre-emptive strike against rival retailers

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Amazon.com has been granted a patent for “a method and system for anticipatory package shipping”.

The patent's concept is simple: Amazon wants to pack up single items and ship them closer to customers, even before they order the item. These “speculatively shipped packages” will be distributed to a “hub” in locations Amazon believes are close to customers likely to buy the items in question. Once those customers make the order, the pre-generated package ID number is assigned to the buyer and the rest of the wheels go into motion to deliver the goods to a punter's door.

The patent even considers some items may never reach a hub and could instead be assigned a recipient “during the 'last mile' of delivery”.

Amazon's not proposing that its delivery partners' vans will circle the suburbs stocked with copies of Dan Brown's next opus that can be dropped off to eager readers in moments. Instead it imagines predictive analysis software will offer a rather more targeted service. Indeed, the patent talks up all manner of prioritisation cleverness so that a customer signed up to Amazon Prime would be first in line for a locally-cached item while a less important customer waits their turn.

Pre-emptive despatch of goods is, of course, nothing new for supply chain operators who understand very well the need to have inventory in place to meet surges in demand. In The Reg's own neck of the woods, Dell made itself famous for understanding just how many components it needed to build a day's worth of PCs and other gadgetry without kicking itself in the cashflow.

Large retailers of all stripes doubtless have similar abilities and operate all manner of distribution hubs to deliver the goods, literally and metaphorically.

Amazon, however, now has a patent on such arrangements for individual deliveries, which will make it rather harder for others to follow with competing services. That may make predictive delivery a pre-emptive strike on rival bricks and mortar retailers as well as an innovation in its own right. ®

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