An anonymous reader writes "The WSJ is reporting that Amazon has obtained a patent for 'anticipatory shipping,'' and claims it knows its customers so well it can start shipping even before orders are placed. The technique could cut delivery time and discourage consumers from visiting physical stores. In the patent document, Amazon says delays between ordering and receiving purchases 'may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.' Of course, Amazon's algorithms might sometimes err, prompting costly returns. To minimize those costs, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts, or convert the unwanted delivery into a gift. 'Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill,' the patent said. Considering the problems that can arise when shipping something a customer did not order anticipatory shipping has the potential to backfire faster than an Amazon drone can deliver."