Yesterday’s Washington Post had a story about Amazon.com applying for a patent on a process to improve the experience of receiving a gift. When a person purchases an item through Amazon and identifies it as a gift to be delivered to another person, Amazon will electronically notify the recipient of the gift of its identity before the item is shipped. If the recipient would prefer something else, he can so notify Amazon which will ship the desired item or a gift card in the same value. The system even generates a thank you note from the recipient back to the donor for the original gift (with no mention of the substitution).
From Amazon’s perspective, this would be huge. Shipping accounts for a huge chunk of the company’s operating costs and a good piece of that is spent on returned or exchanged items, so anything that can increase the efficiency of delivery is most desirable for Amazon. Still, part of the pleasure of receiving a gift is the mystery of opening an unidentified package, an experience that would be lost under this new system.