After online holiday shopping experienced a record year, it may be comforting for some to know that Amazon has patented a method for gift exchange. It looks like the site will soon feature an automated program that allows recipients to return items bought from the site even prior to being shipped. It’s listed as a “gift conversion” system in the patent application and gives users the ability to set “rules” for gifts.
The application gives the example of an Aunt Mildred, whose gifts are immediately converted into gift certificates since, as the patent puts it, “the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes” than he or she might. But, in a more polite twist, the system automatically generates a thank you note for the intended gift.
But, as the Washington Post points out, Amazon has more than your unwanted holiday remnants in mind. The process of returns and exchanges for the site is a considerable expense for the company, and putting that ordeal into users’ hands is far more efficient. Still, there’s skepticism as to whether or not consumers will want to the responsibility: the system works by created a list of bad gift-givers and how Amazon should exchange their orders in advance. It also allows participants to see how much was spent on their gifts, which could make some apprehensive about using Amazon for gifting at all. Etiquette expert Anna Post, spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, told the Washington Post “she hopes the company realizes it is risking major backlash and abandons the idea.”
Despite the potential backlash, it could pay off for Amazon. A staggering amount of e-purchases end up being returned, and consumer technology analyst Carl Howe claims this costs sites like Amazon, “…in the millions of dollars, and it might even be billions.”
The gift converter hasn’t been installed on the site yet, and there’s no word on when it will be introduced. However, it seems like all systems are go as the patent has been officially award to Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos.