Amazon Patents Tech That Returns And Exchanges Bad Gifts Before You Get Them

Call it “The Bad Gift Filter.” Amazon has patented a system that could intercept the yet another sweater Aunt Janice has sent you and automatically return it and exchange it for something you actually want.

The system lets you create profiles for people in your life and then say if they give you a gift that meets a certain number of requirements, to automatically exchange it for another kind of gift. Like something on your Amazon wishlist. You might specify “no gifts with wool” or that any gift from a specific person should be by default converted into a gift certificate.

Under one version of the system, the gift giver is none the wiser that you pre-exchanged their gift before it ever arrived. Until, of course, they come over and ask to see you in that big beautiful sweater they sent you.

Here’s an image from the patent showing how the filtering system could work:

ruleswizard.jpgAmazon patents procedure to let recipients avoid undesirable gifts [Washington Post]
System and method for converting gifts [US Patent Office]


Edit Your Comment

  1. mandy_Reeves says:

    ohhh! I love it! Pretty sneaky Amazon!

  2. yellowshirt says:

    i’m too lazy to return bad gifts. i would find this useful.

  3. nekussa says:

    The image shows a rule that says “Do not permit any of my gifts to Uncle Bob to be converted to a book on business and investing.” To me that implies the ability to prevent my gifts to others from being exchanged, such that I can force ugly sweaters on my relatives.

    • Zerkaboid says:

      Yeah, I thought that seemed confusing and like the opposite of what the article (ok…headline) is saying.

      • quail says:

        From my limited knowledge of patents, it is not uncommon for a company to throw in every permutation they can think of with the patent in order to keep someone else from usurping it with an “improvement”. The Japananese were notorious for doing just that in the 1980s. Companies would have teams of people combing through foreign patents for ways to improve them and to gain control of the improved intellectual property.

        I doubt that the finished product will allow someone to force you to accept their gift.

    • nbs2 says:

      Noticed that too. I suspect that the system permits a both parties to create restrictions on the automatic return system only. You could force the ugly sweater, but they could return it post-receipt.

      Of course, I’m not sure how the space-time continuum would handle mutually exclusive rules (Nekussa: convert all gifts from Uncle Bob to gift certificate/UB: do not permit any gifts to nekussa be converted to gift certificates).

    • Cyniconvention says:

      But they could possibly be converted to a gift card, or something else…unless there’s an ‘allow no conversion’ option we just aren’t seeing.

  4. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:


  5. momtimestwo says:

    I love it!

  6. FatLynn says:

    How does it match the gift with the recipient? Does it just know that your name and shipping address somehow link to your list?

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    You know the people who are going to complain the most are the people who secretly suspect that they’re horrendous gift givers. They’re the people who are now starting to notice that no one has ever, ever worn their hideous sweaters or displayed their catastrophically ugly art. People can delude themselves all they want that they’re great gift-givers, but some people just aren’t. Some people are just terrible, terrible gift-givers and have no excuse for it.

    This is the passive aggressive way of getting what you want and avoiding the confrontation of telling the person that their gift was not at all what you would ever want.

    • katarzyna says:

      I’m not sure why bad gift-givers would complain about this. I’d rather the receiver get something they really want, rather than what I think they’d want. I’m not sure whether I’m a bad gift-giver or not, but I know my nieces will soon get to the age where I can’t just ask their parents what they wrote in the letter to Santa. I want to make them happy, not fret about getting them the wrong stuff.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        You’re being practical. I’m talking about people who don’t think about the recipient’s personality when they’re picking gifts.

        It’s a silly example, but there’s a scene in an episode of Gilmore Girls when Lorelai (Rory’s mother) and Emily (Lorelai’s mother, Rory’s grandmother) are shopping for Emily’s gift for Rory’s birthday. Emily picks a sweater set or pearls and Lorelai says “You’re shopping for your imaginary granddaughter, Barbara Hutton.” Sometimes people pick gifts based on what they think a person should ideally enjoy, and they don’t factor the person’s personality.

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          or they shop to “force change”
          i tend to eat sitting at my kitchen counter on a stool. so my mother, who wants me to be more formal, bought me coaster and placemats for christmas.
          they are nice ones, and i like them, but i will only use them when i have company over for dinner. but at least they’ll be pristine!

          • HogwartsProfessor says:

            MY SISTER.

            She keeps buying me stuff she likes to wear. She thinks I should dress the way she does. Well I have tits and she doesn’t, so what she wears doesn’t look the same on me. She has this agenda about how I should be. If I don’t fit it, she gets mad.

  8. Dover says:

    I like it, but I need a rule that automatically converts any gift (with the possible exception of things on my wishlist) into a gift card so I can buy myself something useful.

  9. Rachacha says:

    This would work well, except the bad gift givers in my life don’t shop in the internet because they are afraid that someone will steal their credit card number. Instead I get the gifts from the bargain hunters who only purchase things on clearance and can’t be returned or when they are returned, because they were purchased so long ago they are worth only $1.00 (even though the original price was $50 or more.

    My mother regularly is a poor gift giver. When I lived with them (over 15 years ago) I was always cold because they would keep the thermostat set near 60 all winter long. As a result, I always wore oversized sweatshirts just to stay warm. I normally think it is always hot, but 60 inside all winter long in the north is just a bit too cold. When I moved out, I set the temperature in my house to something that was comfortable for me, cool, but not cold. Something where I would be comfortable walking around in a short sleeve shirt on most occasions. Every year for the past 14 years, mom always gives me a sweatshirt or two, often times from my sibling’s school in another state(where they graduated over 8 years ago). I now have a pile of sweatshirts from a school that I did not attend, that I have no interest in wearing because I am almost always hot. It is not worth returning them because they were purchased 8 months ago on clearance for $5 and their SKUs have been removed from the computer system. Despite telling mom that I no longer need sweatshirts, I keep getting them. I usually donate them to charity and take the tax deduction, so mom, thanks for the tax deduction. If only they could enact such a program at brick and mortar stores.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I’m not trying to be mean cause it’s your mom and all, but it doesn’t sound like your mom actually cares about gift giving at all anyway, and the “gifts” are just piles of clothing that can go straight to Goodwill. She’s a bad gift giver, but it doesn’t seem like she cares all that much in the first place.

      I keep getting monogrammed things from my aunt. Nothing about me has ever said “I love monogrammed things,” and yet, year after year, something shows up with my initials or my name. Since it’s personalized, I can’t return it, so it all ends up at Goodwill eventually.

    • qwickone says:

      Can you say something like “Mom, it’s the thought that counts, can you explain what you thought when you bought this for me?” and then gently explain why it’s not that thoughtful really? I know it’s kind of mean, but one uncomfortable conversation could eliminate this annual annoyance. I guess it depends on your mom; my mom would prob cry over this conversation. But then she wouldn’t give me the same crap gift ever again, so decide if it’s worth it to you.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      if you live in a climate that has cool or cold winters, a great place to donate them is the homeless shelter. they will go into immediate use keeping people warm

  10. Wasabe says:

    Like SkyNet, but for crap gifts.

  11. RandomHookup says:

    There’s some real value to this, but after reading this and the returns thread, I think gift giving is broken. This system almost treats it as a marketplace — “Uncle Bob is willing to spend $x on you for this occasion…how would you like to spend it?” We are almost back to the “should I just give cash?” argument.

    Many of the gift recipients I have heard in these discussions have sounded a bit self-centered…”I deserve to get what I want”. Perhaps we are training brides/grooms for their future of overreaching gift expectations. Maybe mandatory gift registries for all occasions are the way to go.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I think gift giving has always been broken to some extent. I gauged from the returns thread (and the worst gifts thread) that relatives are the main culprit of bad gift giving. I think this is because of the cultural and age gap that has always existed between older relatives or parents and their kids. I’m an adult now, and my parents treat me as one, but sometimes they give me a gift that is suited for some other random person, and it’s really confusing to me why that is. They see me a lot and talk to me often, but in many ways, I’m still a complete mystery despite the fact that I don’t think my interests have changed all that much in the last few years.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        A big problem with gift giving is someone gives you what they would want, instead of what you would want. They think of themselves, instead of what the recipient of the gift would want. This is very, very common in families and seems to be the biggest problem in my family especially when you know what someone’s tastes are, you can immediately tell why you got the gift you did.

    • crazy_butch says:

      I care less of what they get me (if nothing, that’s fine, too!) and more about why they got me a certain gift. I have a friend who picks up random things for me at Christmas. She actually told me this year when I was asking when she could hang out with me and her other friends for the holidays, “I’ll just go pick something up at Walmart for you and L that morning.” Ouch. She then proceeded to buy me earrings. She’s known me for over 12 years, and knows- though I wonder lately if she knows anything about me- I don’t wear earrings. I have a lot of close friends who don’t get me anything for Christmas…. I’m perfectly fine with that. It hurts though, when someone buys you something that they didn’t put any thought into, but pretends they did.

  12. aloria says:

    None of the crappy gifts I have ever gotten have been purchased online. My friends are relatives who are tech-savvy enough to do that also know to buy off my amazon wishlist or at least check it for ideas.

    The crappy gifts I have gotten are generally clothing (I have very specific taste and most store-bought clothing is too large for me) or just well-meaning things by someone who doesn’t *quite* get my interests (“oh, I saw this book on ‘Farmville for Dummies’ and I know you are into computers…”)

    • aloria says:

      friends *or* relatives. They really need to start stocking non-flavored coffee in this joint so I can actually drink some…

  13. The Porkchop Express says:

    How do you properly thank the person? do you ever find out what the original gift was?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I imagine that since you’re setting up rules you should have a good idea of what was rejected. If your rule is “nothing with wool in it” you can bet that Aunt Mary bought you a sweater, and that past experience tells you that you won’t like it and it’ll be the wrong size anyway.

  14. vastrightwing says:

    Oh great! Amazon creating patents so that no one else can implement an idea. I hate to break this to you Amazon, but what you’re essentially doing is creating yet another variation of a rule engine and there are a ton of these out there. I hope the patent office denies this one! Just implement the idea and forget about trying to lock the idea up so no one else can do it.

  15. LightningUsagi says:

    This will not protect me from my mother-in-law who is notorious for giving me nick-nacks she wins at bingo…

  16. haggis for the soul says:

    So when your Uncle Bjorn Stronginthearm sends you a Slap Chop and you send him a note thanking him for Seven Samurai, you don’t think there will be confused tears involved?

  17. grumblingmumbles says:

    Was listening to the report on this on NPR driving home last night. Absolutely great idea in the form of cost cutting and customer care.

    Its things like this that make me want to start using their site as a means to purchase online.

  18. isileth says:

    While it might be nice avoiding a bad gift (giving or receiving it), I don’t want Amazon decide for me what I should buy or receive.

    • bonzombiekitty says:

      Ideally, the engine allows you to opt to alert you to approve the exchange. But if I don’t want ANY music by Justin Beiber, then it’s not Amazon deciding whether or not I want I given gift, it’s me making the decision.

  19. BenChatt says:

    This is going to turn into a crappy gift arms race, mark my words.

    You can keep Uncle Bob from changing your stuff in for X, Bob turns around and makes it so you can only return his stuff for fruitcakes, and the Holidays continue in this manner until humanity is destroyed.

  20. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    so the emily post institute doesn’t like it. guess what? social rules change. i have an old etiquette book with a whole chapter on ways to hide your false hair when you stay overnight with a guy.
    in a generation, if this becomes reality, i expect it will be the norm and bad sweaters will be a thing of the past.
    the jobs lost by jingle belled reindeer sweater makers however, that’s not as nice a prospect for their families

  21. r2w7 says:

    That UI should be familiar to Outlook users– =)

  22. coren says:

    I must be lucky – my family shops exclusively from my wishlists, gives me gift cards to places i shop, and almost never tries to get me clothes anymore (I cannot begin to explain my fashion sense to anyone (other than it involves lots of internet shirts and cargo pants))

  23. jimmyhl says:

    Nice. I think next year my family will just do wire transfers of an agreed cash amount.

    • RandomHookup says:

      If you do it properly, most of you won’t have to come out of your pockets for anything. You’ll either be a net giver or a net receiver.

      • AnthonyC says:

        Other than little kids, who make out like bandits, and grandparents, who like to give the little ones whatever they want (based on my own family, YMMV), most people come out about even. So, why do we still give gifts to each other if we end up breaking even?

        I’m of the opinion that it’s valuable because it forces people to spend a certain amount of time/effort/money on enjoying themselves. That value is limited- that is why my extended family stopped having everyone give to everyone and just does a secret santa- but it definitely exists.

  24. HungryGal says:

    This sounds like an extension of the Wish List- and if someone was buying you a gift off your gift list, wouldn’t it be something you wanted anyways? :confused:

    And heaven forbid Uncle Bob buy one of those pesky self-help/entrepreneurship books off Amazon, have it shipped to HIS OWN house and wrap it and then mail it to you. Then you’re really up the river without a paddle.