Amazon Has Patented A Tool To Block The Kind Of Price Comparisons That Grew Its Empire – Forbes
After making front-page news with its plans to scoop up Whole Foods for a cold-pressed $13.7 billion, Amazon has again caught the tech industry’s eye with a new patent aimed to keep in-store shoppers from straying online.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Amazon has recently been awarded a patent which could keep customers in its new retail locations from comparing online prices for products while there–something which, in the past several years, would traditionally be done on Amazon itself. Known as ‘mobile window shopping,’ the practice has allowed many consumers to get a real-life feel for products in retail locations before ordering them online for less, and has helped cause a “worrisome decline” for brick-and-mortar businesses, according to the Post.
Entitled â€œPhysical Store Online Shopping Controlâ€ and granted on May 30, the patent outlines a system which can detect aspects of customers’ internet activity when they log onto Amazon stores’ WiFi networks. According to news outlets, the patented algorithm would register when customers are trying to access competitors’ websites and interfere with such attempts to comparison shop via mobile.
According to theÂ Post, which is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the algorithm “may block access to the competitorâ€™s site, preventing customers from viewing comparable products from rivals [or] redirect the customer to Amazonâ€™s own site or to other, Amazon-approved sites.” The algorithm could also send notifications to Amazon salespeople telling them to approach mobile window shoppers at key moments, or send customers text messages or coupons “designed to lure the person back into Amazonâ€™s orbit.”
GizmodoÂ pointed out that mobile window shopping “is understood to have played a major factor in Amazonâ€™s competitive victories over the last decade,” suggesting that the company’s new patent is aimed to protect it from just such behavior as it enters the storefront arena. The site also noted that the algorithm is limited to affecting searches conducted over Amazon’s store WiFi, so customers at the retailer’s physical locations would still be able to bring up competitors’ offers for products on their smartphones using their data connections “…for now.”
Down the road, if such technology is extended to give retailers greater control over customers’ phones whenever they’re onsite, it could also mean that the golden age of mobile comparison (and private) shopping–one of American consumers’ latest, proudest, and most tumultuous habits–is already behind us.
Gizmodo reflected, “Obviously, thatâ€™s a scenario that the average consumer would revolt against, for now. But itâ€™s an example of how tricky a truly dominant corporation could be if it runs rampant.”
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