Amazon says it can ship items before customers order

 

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Online retail giant Amazon says it knows its customers so well it can start shipping even before orders are placed.

The Seattle-based company, which late last year said it wants to use drones to speed package delivery, gained a patent last month for what it calls “anticipatory shipping,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Amazon, the Journal reported, 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 didn’t estimate how much delivery time it expects to save, or whether it has already put its new system to work, the Journal reported.

“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 make the delivered item a gift.

“Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill,” the patent said.

CONVENIENCE IS KING IN TODAY’S RETAIL WORLD

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Consumers lead busy lives and their time is becoming more limited and fragmented every day. So when it comes to shopping, they may not always be 100 percent focused or fully engaged in the task at hand. So in order to keep up with them, retailers are increasingly finding that they need to innovate in ways that make it easier and more convenient for their customers to get what they need and not miss a beat in the process.

Innovation can take many forms. While breakthroughs like cellular networking and seedless watermelons are tangible examples of innovation, there’s no denying the impact that advancements like multi-platform store formats and online shopping have had on the retail landscape. In fact, according ot the Continuous Innovation: The Key To Retail Success report, convenience may just be the most creative and energetic example of retail innovation.

STANDING OUT WITH CHANNEL AND FORMAT

Channel and format are the stand-out examples of innovation in the retail space. U.K.-based Tesco PLC is one major retailer that has adapted its physical store offerings to meet customer demand for convenience. Notably, Tesco operates four different formats to ensure that its customers have quick and easy access to its offerings regardless of whether they live in dense metro areas or the outskirts of town. Even Walmart, whose superstore concept made it the largest retailer in the world, is testing two smaller formats—even though it continues to expand its traditional supermarket format in the U.S.

As a format in-and-of-itself, brick-and-mortar continues to maintain a strong footing with consumers, particularly as retailers diversify their available store configurations for specific customer needs, online is changing how shoppers interact with stores. This in turn has prompted stores to change in response. For example, many companies with notable physical footprints have capitalized on the influence that online retailing offers by touting “click & collect” options, whereby customers shop online and pick up their items at a nearby store. This innovation is quite powerful, as it improves convenience dramatically for shoppers who find it inconvenient to wait at home during broad delivery windows.

European retailers such as Carrefour and Auchan are particularly advanced in the click & collect arena. France-based Auchan, for example, offers a drive-through service with spacious collection points, allowing shoppers to collect pre-ordered baskets without leaving their cars. Visible from the road, the service is ultra-convenient and serves as a powerful advertisement. But these trends aren’t just popping up in Europe. In the U.S., drug retailer Walgreens offers shoppers a variety of in-store and curbside pick-up options.

VIRTUAL SHOPS DELIVER REAL CONVENIENCE

Some innovations forge entirely new roads. The virtual supermarket, designed by Tesco and launched in South Korean subway stations in 2011, is one such example.

For Koreans, shopping is a much-dreaded task, so Tesco decided to offer them the convenience of browsing through displays of the same merchandise offered in its stores. To make purchases, consumers simply scan QR (quick response) codes of the items they wish to purchase and then click the send button on a smartphone app. Tesco then delivers the merchandise to the consumers shortly after they get home. The results speak for themselves: online sales increased by 130 percent and site registrations grew by 76 percent in just a few months.

By taking a dramatically unique step outside the box, Tesco, which later teamed up with Samsung to later open a more robust version of the virtual store concept in Seoul, debuted an experience that has since been mimicked by several other retail companies. Eighteen months later, Peapod (U.S.), Cold-Storage (Singapore), Woolworths (Australia) and Yihoudian (China) had created virtual platforms of their own.

Are there more convenience roads to explore? Of course. Recent offerings essentially make it easier for consumers to purchase and receive. Today’s tools, however, offer companies and brands insight into when consumers will need to replenish. The ability to make these types of predictions will likely put retailers with loyalty data in an advantageous position. Notably, we’ve already seen how Amazon walks people through the process of choosing goods, quantities and a delivery schedule on a “save, set and forget” basis. So brick-and-mortar” players will need to respond to stay competitive.

In today’s digital world, the one thing traditional retailers have that online operators don’t—physical stores—needs to be an asset rather than a liability. And those assets need to include entertaining, exciting, and emotionally engaging experiences.

Constant Strategic Innovation is a Must: It’s About Providing More Value Than Anyone Else

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Is innovation important? Ask Blockbuster if they saw Netflix coming. Here’s a hard truth: The market will always be searching for something new—and you, not your competitor, must be the one to give it to them. Understanding and enacting these four principles is essential to kick-starting a state of constant and successful evolution in your business. Constant and Strategic Innovation: Products, Service & Delivery.

1. Unlock and Unleash Your Power to Create Progress

Pinpoint what’s blocking your company’s path forward. All the motivation in the world is useless without insight into your—and your company’s—method of operation, and why your vision could be at a standstill. Use your business map to understand where your products are now and to clearly define where you want them to be.

2. Make Your Target Innovations Compelling

Only when you have a compelling vision for the future of your products, services and delivery will you be able to effectively hit your target. Come up with powerful reasons to innovate. And, remember innovation comes in many flavors—it’s not just about high-tech advances or efficiencies in your process. You can innovate how you approach your relationship with your customers, or add a new voice or perspective that sees your products and services in a new light.

3. Link Your Product Features to Your Sales Numbers

The world’s most successful companies are constantly examining the relationship between their products and buyer behavior. Are there ways you can adjust your product to encourage higher frequency of repurchase? What changes can you make to increase your number of customers and dollars per sale? Incremental improvements can generate geometric sales growth.

4. Strategizing Should be an Embedded Skill

A quarterly pow-wow isn’t enough. Strategizing must be a part of your company’s culture, the same way customer service and quality control are deeply embedded in your processes. Innovation is really a daily habit, whereby you constantly reassess what your customers need now, and what they will need in a few years. It requires anticipation, and a determination to never stop identifying new opportunities to serve your customers better through fresh and inventive approaches.

These four principles can help you create a state of constant and successful evolution in your business.

Innovation doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t require a “nano” prefix, a “tech” suffix or—for that matter—a standing room only press conference. Every day, in every industry—from coffee to unmentionables