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Amazon Could Let You Return A Gift Before It's Sent; Awful Or Awesome Idea?

Dec 28, 2010 (All Things Considered)

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Let's be honest. Some folks just aren't great gift-givers.

They mean well, but always choose the wrong size or color or style. Maybe they think you're still into disco. Or that you haven't already read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What if anything they ordered for you could be turned into something you do want — even before it's shipped? And they might never know? And might even get a "thank you" card for what they thought they'd sent? Then you wouldn't have to go through the hassle of returning it.

Those are the driving ideas behind a patent awarded last month to Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and Colin Bryar, one of the online retailer's vice presidents.

Their "system and method for converting gifts" isn't going operational anytime soon. But if it does, as The Washington Post writes, "the consumer could keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships." Here's how reporter Michael Rosenwald described the system earlier today in a conversation with NPR's Audie Cornish. As you'll hear, it wouldn't only allow you to reject a certain person's gifts — you could also set it up to, for example, automatically convert just certain types of things (like wool sweaters, if you're allergic) into gift certificates:

Much more from their discussion is due on today's edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show.

Now, the patent makes the case that the lousy gift-givers would benefit from this as well. "In some cases," it says, "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."

But it strikes us that this also seems like some sort of major etiquette faux pas. So, we wonder:

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