The process of shipping an item needs idiot-proofing because most of us are idiots. In the patent, they describe all of the steps required to stuff something in a box and get it in the mail.
The seller must first determine the appropriate box size. Once the item has been packaged, the seller must choose among the different shipping choices available to the seller. The seller then needs to obtain the appropriate shipping label and fill it out with shipping information from the buyer. When the seller finally ships the package, the seller further needs to provide a tracking number to the buyer by copying the tracking number and emailing it to the buyer.
There’s also the part where you have to locate the nearest post office, enter the lobby, stand between the ropes waiting for a clerk to come available, walk up to the counter, and hand over the box. Arduous.
eBay’s planned system would fix that by automatically figuring out what kind of box you need, printing postage on it, and sending it to you. How would they do that? The patent tells all, sort of:
Physical specifications may include, for example, physical dimensions (e.g., height, width, length, and weight). The shipping material provisioning engine determines specifications of a shipping material for the item based on the physical specifications of the item. In other words, a size of a shipping box may be selected such that it will fit the item and not be too large so as to waste shipping space…
The tasks for the system include “identifying a size of a shipping box based on the physical specifications of the item; identifying a packaging material to be included with the item in the shipping box; and generating a shipping label based on a selection of the recommended shipping means for the item.”
If it works, neat idea. It probably won’t be cheap, but would make everyone’s life easier. We foresee people getting an iPhone-sized box when they’re trying to mail a breadbox, but we’re such pessimists.
eBay Fool Proofs Shipping with Assisted Shipping System [AuctionBytes]