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Gift With Purchase Gone Bad

Man_with_purchaseImagine a female shopper getting a free man if she purchases enough items. That's exactly what happened in China, where a local mall provided a novel incentive for any woman who spent more than £120 at the mall.

It may sound amusing in a backwards kind of way to us. But somewhere in Seattle, someone is probably laughing at us in much the same way.

Amazon.com has just been awarded patent number 6,865,546, entitled "Methods and systems of assisting users in purchasing items." This patent covers information gleaned from one purchase to provide suggestions for a future purchase. For example, perfume bought a week before Valentine's Day can be inferred to mean the item was bought as a Valentine's gift, and it can also be inferred that the same item is for a girl.

It may sound absolutely silly at first. After all, smart store associates have always used their recollection of their clientele's shopping habits to propose new purchases. However, thanks to our arcane system of issuing patents, things like this have a nasty way of impacting businesses not next year, but much later down the road when we try to do something that is critical for our business.

History has a funny way of repeating itself. In the 1980s, many of the patents issued for audiotext applications (information, often sports information or porn, delivered via a 1-900 telephone number) were written in a way to cover all computing applications, not just interactive voice response. Fast forward ten years later, and companies from AOL to Microsoft ended up paying royalties to companies like the InTouch Group after trying, unsuccessfully, to overturn those patents.

Oh, and good luck to Jeff Bezos in collecting a license fee for the "handsome handyman". Maybe he can negotiate a site license with the city of Guangzhou. 

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» Zeitgeist: Free Man With Purchase from ICE- Improving Customer Experience
Spend £120, get a free man. No joke. Oh, and Amazon is awarded another patent. This is no joke either considering the subject of the patent: Using past purchases to help suggest future items. Will every site that uses customer behavior to suggest ... [Read More]

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