Amazon gets patent for system to 'convert' crummy gifts to wanted ones

woman looking blah at ChristmasIf the thought of getting another cable-knit sweater or basket of bath products this Christmas makes you roll your eyes, know that Amazon.com is in your corner. The online retailer has just patented a technology for converting unwanted gifts into things consumers actually want without letting the giver know.

The system works by allowing people to set up gift conversion rules to determine the way gifts purchased online for them might be changed. For example, a rule could say "No clocks," or "Convert all clocks to red wine." "Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred" could work if a giver traditionally has different tastes, in which case presents come as gift certificates. "Not another XYZ comic strip calendar" could intercept specific unwanted items and convert them to more wanted gifts.

Rules can also be set up at specific times of the year, such as birthdays and holidays, and for specific dollar values. For example, a user can ask that a gift be converted if valued at more than $500 and in the product category of "clothes."

In its filing, Amazon explains the usefulness of the technology in these words: "In some cases, concern that the gift recipient may not like a particular gift may cause the person sending the gift to be more cautious in gift selection. The person sending the gift may be less likely to take a chance on a gift that is unexpected but that the recipient might truly enjoy, opting instead for a gift that is somewhat more predictable but less likely to be converted to something else."

The company also notes that returning an unwanted gift, particularly one purchased online, is often inconvenient because the item needs to be repackaged and shipped back to the merchant.

The patent, which had been awaiting approval for more than four years, was granted this week to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Colin Bryar. It is not immediately clear when the service will become available to consumers.

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