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It was just a few weeks ago that the media spotlight was on Amazon's investment in drone technology that could, if deployed, allow the e-tailer to use unmanned octocopters to deliver packages of five pounds or less.

Now, the focus is on a different kind of shipping innovation - "anticipatory shipping," which the company seems to believe it can use to figure out what people are going to buy even before they make their purchases.

Amazon reportedly has filed for and received a patent for a process that would allow it to use a number of factors - ranging from what products a person is looking at online and how often, what products the person has searched for and purchased in the past - to figure out what needs to be positioned in locations that will enable it to get things to customers more efficiently and less expensively. This could mean getting appropriate products to the warehouses it is building all over the country, or even, in the most extreme and predictable cases, onto trucks with labels attached, just waiting for someone to click "buy."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "the patent exemplifies a growing trend among technology and consumer firms to anticipate consumers’ needs, even before consumers do. Today, there are refrigerators that can tell when it’s time to buy more milk, smart televisions that predict which shows to record and Google's Now software, which aims to predict users’ daily scheduling needs … But the patent demonstrates one way Amazon hopes to leverage its vast trove of customer data to edge out rivals."
KC's View:
Go figure. All that technology, and it ends up that one of Amazon's most interesting pieces of equipment could be a crystal ball.

What this points to is the degree to which Amazon is an algorithm-driven company, using advanced formulas and technology to target and predict customer behavior. I suppose there are ways in which this could cause problems, but in the long run, one has to believe that this creates an enormous competitive advantage for any company that can develop such programs.

It also is inevitable, I think, that Amazon is not operating in a vacuum. I'm sure that Walmart is getting into the crystal ball business, as are FedEx and UPS … all of which have a stake in making the shipping process more efficient and effective, especially fate the problems encountered during the 2013 holiday season.

That rumbling you feel is the retail landscape shifting under your feet.