Amazon tech helps return gifts before you get them

E-tailer gets patent for system that lets users "convert" gifts they'd otherwise receive into another product or gift card before the gifts are even shipped out.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
Sorry, Uncle Bob, but you're not a great gift-giver.
Sorry, Uncle Bob, but you're not a great gift-giver. USPTO/Amazon

Amazon might have a simple solution in store for those who get disappointed every holiday season by undesirable gifts.

The company has been awarded a patent that allows gift recipients to automatically exchange items before they receive them. The solution would offer those ungrateful recipients the opportunity to choose something else or get a gift card without necessarily indicating to the sender that it wasn't accepted.

"As in other gift-giving situations, it sometimes occurs that gifts purchased online do not meet the needs or tastes of the gift recipient," Amazon wrote in the patent, which was first discovered by The Washington Post. "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."

In order to achieve that, the patent features a system where the respective sender and recipient are identified on Amazon. The recipient can then tell the service that once the buyer chooses a gift, it should exchange it for another product.

Amazon specifically cites a fictional "Aunt Mildred." In the example, the recipient identifies his or her aunt as having "different tastes than the user." The system will require information about Aunt Mildred to accurately identify her. When Aunt Mildred sends a gift to the recipient, the system's "gift conversion is triggered."

Amazon's system goes beyond just targeting family members and friends who offer undesirable gifts. The company's patent also includes a system whereby recipients can "check clothes sizes first" to ensure the gift they're about to receive is the right size. If it is, they'll receive it. If not, the system will recognize the wrong size and trigger a conversion that changes the gift to another size.

Amazon's patented service is certainly interesting. But it might beg the question of whether or not it's in the spirit of graciously accepting gifts--even those from Aunt Mildred.