If you find yourself frequently disappointed by gifts from Aunt Mildred or Uncle Fred, Amazon may have a solution in store for you. Amazon was recently awarded a patent for a solution that will enable gift recipients to automatically exchange an item before they ever receive it. With Amazon's system, you'll get the chance to choose something else or get a gift card without ever letting the sender know you returned his or her gift.
Amazon further describes the system in its patent: "As in other gift-giving situations, it sometimes occurs that gifts purchased online do not meet the needs or tastes of the gift recipient….In such situations, the recipient may wish to convert the gift to something else, for example, by exchanging the gift for another item or by obtaining a redemption coupon, gift card, or other gift certificate to be redeemed later."
Amazon's system lets recipients specify certain individuals that may have different tastes from their own. In Amazon's example, the gift recipient can identify someone such as Amazon's fictional character Aunt Mildred and select an option to "Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred to a gift certificate." Users can also create rules that tell Amazon to check with them before converting a gift to a gift card.
Not surprisingly, the Miss Manners crowd is against the idea. Anna Post, great-great-granddaughter of the late etiquette author Emily Post and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, said, "This idea totally misses the spirit of gift giving."
Although the system certainly seems against the spirit of gift giving and graciously receiving those gifts, it could be useful for things such as checking sizes. For example, the system can check clothes sizes before a gift is shipped. If the gift giver selects the wrong size, the system can change the size so the recipient receives clothes that will fit.
Amazon's patent has brought to light an interesting statistic about online shopping: up to 30 percent of online purchases are returned. The cost of shipping these rejected gifts back to the retailer and re-stocking them is a large expense—one that retailers would love to reduce. As Carl Howe, a Yankee Group consumer technology analyst points out, Amazon's idea could be quite valuable: "If you can get the right gift to a person the first time, this could be a huge cost-saving invention. From a retailer's perspective, this is like gold."