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Amazon Patents Bad Service For Bad Customers

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the well-not-quite-but-still dept.

Patents 299

mikesd81 writes "Techdirt reports that Amazon has been awarded a patent for Generating Current Order Fulfillment Plans Based on Expected Future Orders. Essentially, if Amazon deems that you won't be a long time customer or ordering again soon, your order will take longer to be expedited."

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Waitaminute (5, Funny)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462767)

This could be a blessing in disguise!

If another retailer takes forever and a day to ship your stuff, they open themselves up to a patent infringement suit!

This could be a boon for internet shoppers everywhere...
=Smidge=

In other words ... (4, Insightful)

Aetuneo (1130295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462769)

As I said when this was posted on Techdirt, this system could encourage customers not to shop at amazon, because when you start shopping there the shipping takes longer. Appeasing a small group of users who make up the majority of purchases and irritating a larger group who make only occasional purchases is not the way to go.

Re:In other words ... (1, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462795)

I think it's clever and creative. It's basically a free version of Newegg's preferential shipping scheme.

Just think that for every package that gets unfavorable treatment, there is a package that gets a better treatment. I bet you money service will improve overall.

Re:In other words ... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462897)

There's nothing wrong with frequent customers getting better treatment, I fly a lot and enjoy my frequent flyer status which allows me into the airport lounges. I have no problem with amazon treating the frequent customers better but what I dislike is that I'm already being treated in a certain way by amazon and for pretty much no reason I'm going to be 'punished' and treated worse.

Creative? (3, Funny)

asifyoucare (302582) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463175)

NOBODY has ever thought of giving one's best customers preferential treatment. Pure genius.

Re:In other words ... (1)

wallyhall (665610) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462803)

Funny. Almost ironic in a way. Perhaps I should patent "Good service for good customers".

Re:In other words ... (5, Funny)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462821)

Better hurry--and be sure it says "on the Internet" so it's patentable.

Re:In other words ... (2, Funny)

the_lesser_gatsby (449262) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463153)

Too late. But "on a mobile phone" is still available.

Re:In other words ... (1)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463587)

Still not creative enough...hmm

Patent Application Form J2124, Patent for 'Good Service for Good Customers on the Internet in a Shopping Cart Model'

There's no way it could fail!

Re:In other words ... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463031)

I think a semi-randomized mixed system might to the trick, but would it be any different from a total randomized system?

Re:In other words ... (1)

The Clockwork Troll (655321) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463435)

Appeasing a small group of users who make up the majority of purchases and irritating a larger group who make only occasional purchases is not the way to go.

Your implication is that more users suffer than benefit. You said it yourself: it's a small group that is enjoying faster shipping. Mathematically, you can't screw everyone else. In fact, most everybody else gets the shipping they wanted in the first place.

Amazon's real secret? When you purchase something on Amazon, their delivery commitment is vague enough that you can be at the "back of the line" and still get your goods when promised.

Ok (2, Interesting)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462779)

I can understand why you would DO this, but why in God's name would you patent it? Amazon already has the black eye from attempting to give targeted prices to members (oops) and a patent black eye by flouting the USPTO's decision on one-click. What business model is being protected by patenting the mechanism to put orders on the back burner?

Re:Ok (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462805)

I'm glad they've gotten a patent on it, despite the fact that it is bogus. That way any other retailer tempted to use this kind of predictive behavioral modeling crap against their customers might reconsider when they realize they'll have to pay Jeff Bezos for the privilege.

maybe they want to act good, like Google? (-1, Redundant)

someone1234 (830754) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462987)

As others said, this should be beneficial to customers, Amazon could sue all other bad suppliers out of existence.

Re:Ok (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463319)

Amazon already has the black eye from attempting to give targeted prices to members (oops) and a patent black eye by flouting the USPTO's decision on one-click.

How many of Amazon's customers give a damn about targeted discounts or the one-click patent? Probably fewer than are buying Ratatouille on DVD at $12.49. Blu-Ray at $24.

Re:Ok (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463425)

LOTS.

The targeted discounts mess was big enough to get amazon to stop and probab ly big enough to keep early adopters away for a little while. The people buying movies on DVD aren't the big spenders. Amazon is looking for early adopters of technology for high margin items, not people buying movies and CD's where the margin is probably under a dollar for the retailer.

The one click patent, probably not so much.

Wow, Amazon! (3, Insightful)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462793)

Self-fulfilling prophecy much? It works both ways, guys--if you slow my order because you don't think I will be a good customer, guess what, you can be pretty sure I won't.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (3, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462831)

I'm pretty sure people would have forgotten about this had Amazon not seeked to patent it.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (3, Insightful)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463075)

Guess it was pretty stupid of them to patent them and put themselves in the limelight for customer hostile practices, then, wasn't it? The good news for Amazon here is that people have amazingly short memories, but their timing might cost them a few bucks if this gets picked up on by someone like Walt Mossberg.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462879)

See? It works!

Re:Wow, Amazon! (2, Interesting)

Threni (635302) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463003)

Amusingly, they used to charge existing customers more, presumably on the grounds that they've already hooked you and don't need to try as hard. I don't think that little trick lasted very long. I might go to Amazon first to check the price and get details of the product, but I always then look elsewhere to see if I can get it cheaper.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463107)

That probably stopped or at least slowed when the word got out to check prices with a fresh browser session with no cookies, and without logging in. They theoretically could track by IP address, but AOL and others aggregate web traffic into proxies, making this less practicable.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463249)

the design of the price selection system was meant to provide lower prices to price sensitive customers and higher prices to price insensitive customers. Plenty of companies do this through self selection (top of the line gaming rig vs. budget box), but amazon got busted using a pretty unsophisitcated way of doing it. Partially boned by (as base3 said) AOL's practice of aggrigating IP addresses and the mixed nature of cookie handling, it wasn't a very good idea to begin with, anyways.

Much better to get customers to do self selection.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

reboot246 (623534) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463047)

One of the reasons I rarely shop Amazon is because of their slow shipping. Seriously, if an item is in stock, I fully expect it to ship the next business day. If it doesn't, I won't be back often. If other retailers can do it, so can Amazon.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463379)

One of the reasons I rarely shop Amazon is because of their slow shipping. Seriously, if an item is in stock, I fully expect it to ship the next business day. If it doesn't, I won't be back often. If other retailers can do it, so can Amazon.
I used to cancel orders that sat in Amazon's shipping queue for days on end, even though the item was in stock, and it wasn't near a major holiday or anything of that nature.

After a while, I noticed that each and every one of my orders began going into the nebulous "Processing" category as soon as I went through the checkout. This meant that I could wait the better part of a week for an item to ship, but because it was "Processing", I couldn't cancel it.

That's when I gave up on Amazon, as if their refusal to ship to P.O. Boxes wasn't enough.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463159)

Self-fulfilling prophecy much? It works both ways, guys--if you slow my order because you don't think I will be a good customer, guess what, you can be pretty sure I won't.
Yet another fine example of patenting very old business practices as "new" just because they are done by computer. As often is the case the old business practices are met with old customer practices and bad practices are often met as you would meet this one. Of course Amazon might get away with this one a bit more as it is not quite as noticeable as you getting shuttled to the back of the line just because you don't look wealthy at a store.

Of course this might not be as noticeable to most of their customers as it would be in a brick and mortar business. Being as it is a matter of public record though that they have the technology, one has to wonder if/when some organization such as the NAACP set up for the protection of minorities might sue and file for discovery to ascertain the degree to which minorities are being discriminated against by these methods. The government might even decide to look into this. If the people who want people to be always fully identifiable on the internet get their way then such code as this might be subpoenable on the grounds that it needs to be checked to make sure it is not checking the race fields in the identifiers.

Hopefully this patent will get wide and loud coverage. Amazon should be publicly roasted over this loudly enough that perhaps some will get a clue. Bad service and acceptance of bad service is way too common.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

FLEB (312391) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463615)

Being as it is a matter of public record though that they have the technology, one has to wonder if/when some organization such as the NAACP set up for the protection of minorities might sue and file for discovery to ascertain the degree to which minorities are being discriminated against by these methods.

Get Firefox and use the User Agent Switcher extension:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; Caucasian; Male;)

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

bangzilla (534214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463397)

Have your read the patent? There is *nothing* about slowing orders if you don't order much. Scheese - if you're going to go negative please do so based on actually *reading* what you are complaining about.

Re:Wow, Amazon! (1)

the_lesser_gatsby (449262) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463653)

I've read it. Apart from the fact that it's just written in a obfuscated way (does each claim have to be a single paragraph?), claim 3 basically says that they'll prioritize shipments based on the customer's expected future orders. I.e. they'll slow orders to customers who are not predicted to order in the future.

HELLO (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462797)

this is a system wide announcement: I farted!

Re:HELLO (-1, Troll)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462957)

great, now amazon will come up with a patent for customer that fart, why don't you just shut the fuck up already?

Re:HELLO (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463177)

How can a system wide announcement be offtopic you stupid modorateor? IT IS SYSTEM WIDE that meanes its for everyeiybody so it is tehrfour on there topic??! sutupid morotatar,.!

Great idea... not. (4, Insightful)

Coopjust (872796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462813)

This is not only a dumb thing to patent, but also something that is a dumb idea in general.

A) How are you going to prove that another company delayed an order for that reason? How would you be able to prove anything in a court of law, so your patent wouldn't be infringed on?
B) Why, oh why, would anyone use this idea? Delaying the orders of non-longtime customers or customers that are not extremely active is the wrong way to do things. First impressions count, and one of the reasons that I am such a Newegg fanatic is because my first order came overnight via UPS ground, extremely well packaged to boot.

If Amazon implements something like this, I'm not going to shop there out of principle.

Re:Great idea... not. (4, Interesting)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462891)

this is a GOOD idea, and not that far removed from the Newegg concept. Newegg spends money and charges more in order to push items out the door faster. You can pay MORE in order to get something tomorrow. Partially what allows them to do this IS an ordering system that prioritizes orders from one source over anothers. That is what allows them to fill boxes and get them to UPS faster.

In the case of Amazon.com, you are talking about getting this service without paying for it. If you buy things from Amazon that indicate that you will buy fancy stuff in the future, your order will get pushed out the door faster. If you only buy used books from allied used retailers, then you're order will get fewer CPU cycles devoted to it.

It's just interrupt priority for shipping, basically.

Re:Great idea... not. (0, Troll)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462983)

How much you want to bet using one-click check out is instant game?

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463125)

I'll bet quite a bit. I'll wager that they've compiled data showing that 1 click users offer a much better margin than checkout shoppers and so they will probably give priority to a 1 click purchase.

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

VCAGuy (660954) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463323)

...and not only that, they'll probably also prioritize Prime customers accordingly...they tend to be more loyal because they're getting their shipping discount, and don't want to buy it somewhere else because fast shipping "costs more" there (though not everyone might get their $79 worth...I know I did...I bought a Mac Pro from them and had it shipped overnight for $3.99).

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

dontthink (1106407) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463253)

If you buy things from Amazon that indicate that you will buy fancy stuff in the future, your order will get pushed out the door faster.

Very interesting thought - say your first experience with Amazon was buying textbooks in college. Is there incentive for them to ship, say, medical textbooks faster than philosophy textbooks, since doctors are generally going to have more expendable income than philosophers?

This example isn't perfect (philosophers may buy more books, philosophy as pre-law, etc), but there is almost certainly a correlation between the types of textbooks purchased and future disposable income...

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463363)

Meh. Probably not. I would be impressed if they had the data to universally correlate type of textbook purchase with future value. To me it seems likely that a new tezxtbook purchase would signal pretty clear price insensitivity of demand, and they would declare you a priority customer.

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462971)

If Amazon implements something like this, I'm not going to shop there out of principle.

Oh please. Every brick-and-mortar you do business with does the same thing. It's the expected norm. Don't believe me? Pick a locally-owned restaurant small enough to actually care about customer service. Go there often enough to become a regular. Notice that sometimes you get magically promoted to the front of the "waiting to be seated" list, and maybe get drink refills a little more promptly than other tables on busy nights.

Now, one could argue that you should give preferential treatment to first-time customers because the regulars obviously already like you. One could also go out of business as they see their sales being sucked away by competitors that understand human psychology.

It's stupid for Amazon to patent this, but it's just plain good business to be doing it in the first place.

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

cyphercell (843398) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463095)

I see your point, but this is Amazon we're talking about. Basically, they're saying if you're a new customer you may have to wait four hours for a glass of water, shit the only thing Amazon should ever say about poor service is that they're doing whatever they can to eliminate it. Dumb-asses, if I'd heard about this two years ago, before two different "Amazon direct" purchases were delayed nine months I'd have felt even more entitled to good service, I wonder how they'll treat good customers they treat like shit? Dump 'em in the bad customer queue?

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463307)

YOu know that this system isn't just: "Ok, if you suck and buy used books, we are going to bench your order just out of spite for months on end." Every time someone's order is delayed, another order gets expedited. This is how shipping preference works. It's how ocean container shipping works. If you pay big bucks for the container, you get moved in first, if you don't, you get to wait until another container shows up and you can fit inside it after someone else has paid its way. This way, more shipping containers get moved his a higher revenue.

I guarantee that this will result in net faster service.

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

the_lesser_gatsby (449262) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463393)

Exactly. They could have just implemented this like every other bean-counting company does. Instead, they've just handed an advertising slogan to their competitors:

"Amazon: the company that patented bad service"

Re:Great idea... not. (2, Insightful)

Moralpanic (557841) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463535)

Alright, lets run with your restaurant analogy. I know that if i were at a busy restaurant, and i was waiting 30mins for a table, and some regular showed up, and got seated before me, i would leave. What would you do?

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463193)

A) How are you going to prove that another company delayed an order for that reason?
This could easily get hit with civil rights lawsuits for that reason. In the US most minorities are, on average, less wealthy. Now what if it turns out that poor people are on average not the best customers because they shop less often, return things after using them for a week, whatever. They could be disproportionately affected by this. This sort of lawsuit happens all the time [nytimes.com] in other industries such as insurance and housing.

Re:Great idea... not. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463321)

It happens all the time in those industries because they STILL red line and STILL use scare tactics to push black and latino buyers and policy seekers out of the market. there isn't even room for comparison between ACTIVE discrimination in housing markets and an automated system that computes predicted value of future purchases and assigns a shipping priority accordingly.

Comparing the two only ignores the ignoble and disgusting nature of racism in insurance and realty.

Re:Great idea... not. (2, Insightful)

cliffski (65094) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463201)

It doesn't sound like they deliberately delay anything, just that good customers get to the top of the queue. I'm not at all surprised by this. If you sell widgets and have 2 emails in you inbox, one from a guy who orders a widget each Christmas, and one from that guy who buys about 36 a week, whose do you reply to first? They are just automating the system.

I'd guess amazons order scheduling system is very complex and balances a variety of elements, such as:

total order value
ease of scheduling that drop-off with others in the same area that day
customer loyalty
profit from the delivery 9is it paid delivery or a free delivery option)
etc.

The patent is the only thing (4, Insightful)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462835)

Why is this different than any other enterprise? Bigger customers generally get preferential treatment. If two customers call me and have network issues, and I have billed one of them $50,000 in the past year, while the other one bought one compact flash card from me two years ago, which one am I going to take care of first?

Now, as to why they thought that patenting it was a good idea, I don't have a clue.

Re:The patent is the only thing (3, Insightful)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462959)

Now, as to why they thought that patenting it was a good idea, I don't have a clue.

That's really easy to answer. It's to stop someone else from patenting it and using it to sue them.

The whole thing is absurd, not just this particular patent, but this stupid torrent of all but worthless patents that is busily burying the US's future ability to innovate..

Re:The patent is the only thing (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463085)

Pretty sure that unless it was actually patented previously, their protection would come from prior use. Patent protection serves (in cases like these) to defend a competitive advantage based on novel tech for a while.

The cynic is the only thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463419)

"The whole thing is absurd, not just this particular patent, but this stupid torrent of all but worthless patents that is busily burying the US's future ability to innovate.."

Care to give examples other than special cases? I think we're not only innovating fine. Historically the US is more friendly to the entrepreneur, even better than Canada.

Oh ya? (0, Offtopic)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462837)

Well I would have no problem sending them a heaping pile of dung First Class. Can't say they could do the same for me.

Re:Oh ya? (1)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462861)

Yeah, but you should put packing peanuts in the box as well. After all, what's the first thing that someone does when the box has the little Styrofoam nuggets in it?

Big Buy has beat them to it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462843)

I hear that a certain large chain store already has prior art on this.

doesnt make sense (0, Troll)

el_coyotexdk (1045108) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462847)

Why do they need a patent on being late on deliveries? they already are... and i do think we've seen prior art on this one :P

Purpose of patents.. (2, Interesting)

cyberjock1980 (1131059) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462849)

Patents are supposed to protect an inventor's invention so that other's can't duplicate it allowing the inventor to earn money for his invention. Generally speaking a patented idea is a good idea. Yet lately I'm seeing more and more patents being approved that just seem downright bad ideas. They are trying to protect themselves from potential 'bad customers'(being those that will only buy once or twice). How can someone even think of something as idiotic as this? Seriously? They're already marking some people as 'bad customers' before we've gotten our merchandise!!!

Re:Purpose of patents.. (4, Informative)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462911)

Your idea of 'good' or 'bad' ideas doesn't really factor in to what patents are or aren't supposed to protect. They protect novel ideas.

Re:Purpose of patents.. (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462973)

What's novel about treating customers differently based on expectation of future revenue. That's been going on since the first wheels were sold in lots decorated with flags made from wooly mammoth skins.

Re:Purpose of patents.. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463215)

Creating a system to predict future revenue streams from customers then input that prediction into a shipping preference system sounds pretty novel to me.

Re:Purpose of patents.. (1)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463241)

It's not. It's doing the same thing that's always been done except now "with a computer," "on the Internet." Of course, that won't stop the corrupt, incompetent USPTO from granting a patent.

Re:Purpose of patents.. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463519)

No, it's not. I didn't work on it, but I can damn well bet that the level of sophisitcation and the novelty of analysis and control are enough for it to be distinct from older uses.

Sort of like making a computer simulation of a wind tunnel. Yeah, wind tunnels exist and the ideas and theories are in the public domain, but the actual computer simulation allowing a CAD input and providing a Cd and other info is very novel.

I thought they were already doing this... (1, Interesting)

Burlynerd (535250) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462853)

Amazon's delivery performance has degraded so greatly in the last year or two that I thought they were already doing something like this. I've been a big shopper with them since they began, and I have seen their delivery performance going into the sewer for quite some time. As their delivery performance suffered, my purchases from them have dropped-off to almost nothing. Whatever possessed them to think that a punishment would improve their sales is beyond my imaginiation. BN

Re:I thought they were already doing this... (1)

slashHandle (870823) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462989)

One of the reps told me on the phone that if you choose free shipping, your order goes through a delivery tar pit (Delivery is deliberately delayed).

Re:I thought they were already doing this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463293)

It's been a few years, but I used to work at Ingram Book Co. There were essentially two queues for Amazon orders, rush, and "every order in the warehouse is more important than those" why? Because, Amazon preferred to pay less for crappy service, essentially Amazon considered every single order as small potatoes. I can only imagine how bad it will be in the next year or so.

Re:I thought they were already doing this... (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463341)

One of the reps told me on the phone that if you choose free shipping, your order goes through a delivery tar pit (Delivery is deliberately delayed).
That much has been obvious to me for a long time (at least as far as amazon.co.uk are concerned). The actual dispatch date is clearly being delayed on items that are in stock.

I can live with this; they make clear that delivery dates will be 3-5 days later on Super Saver items, and don't actually claim (nor imply, if one actually pays attention) that this is due to slow delivery. Frankly, Amazon are already pretty cheap for a lot of things, and the free shipping must cost them a fair amount on lower-value items. I think it's reasonable for them to not want to cannibalise their paid-shipping orders.

Re:I thought they were already doing this... (1)

bangzilla (534214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463447)

| One of the reps told me on the phone that if you choose free shipping, your order goes through a delivery tar pit (Delivery is deliberately delayed). *utter bullshit* - You'll notice when you place an order on Amazon you are given a delivery promise. If you don't like the promise, you don't have to complete placing your order. Why would delivery be deliberately delayed? Amazon only charges your credit card when the order ships - it's in Amazon's best interest to ship as fast as possible so it can charge your credit card. "one of the reps told me......" yeah, yeah. Who? When? Let me guess "you forget".....

in other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462859)

so... Amazon Patents Good Service for Good Customers?

I know amazon is on The List of Evil and all, but really? How is this is bad?

Slow service does not make customers repeat! (4, Interesting)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462883)

"Essentially, if Amazon deems that you won't be a long time customer or ordering again soon, your order will take longer to be expedited."

And slow service will make me want to be a repeat customer?

Re:Slow service does not make customers repeat! (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21462931)

I'll bet a week's salary that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

The solution is part of the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462921)

Wonder if they account for shipping times as a factor in customer satisfaction, and thus loyality?

The USPTO are a joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21462939)

I once held an urgent order back for a week out of spite because it was chased up hourly for 2 days. Automating the process using a computer is obvious albeit totally unprofessional for a major corporation. Patents on "business methods" such as these will be the downfall of the patent system. We're actually fortunate that patent lawyers and the USPTO are busy working on it.

Pareto Optimization (4, Insightful)

gregor-e (136142) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463077)

It's a form of Pareto optimization, in which a reallocation of resources is expected to improve the utility for a subgroup without decreasing the utility of others. In this case, users who are not regular Amazon consumers will not have pre-set expectations of service. So fulfilling their orders in a slightly less rushed fashion will not be noticeable to them. By applying the resources freed from servicing new customers to improved service of old customers, the old customers will sense that Amazon just keeps getting better and better for them, further cementing their loyalty.


Amazon wishes to patent this as a form of obstructive competition. (Which seems to be the only use for software and process patents). If they hold a monopoly, nobody else in the commercial optimization space can offer software or business process design that includes this particular expression of Pareto optimization without fear of Amazon's lawyers. It is ugly, but because our government rewards this sort of behavior, it would be against the shareholder's best interests NOT to pursue such patents. Now, if the consuming public provide a massive negative reaction to this behavior, then the shareholders would be rightfully demanding that Amazon and other companies not play the patent game. But we all know how thoughtful most consumers are.

Price-based optimization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463445)

There is already price-based optimization, where I can pay extra for expedited delivery.

Re:Pareto Optimization (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463469)

Except that for huge operations like amazon, they set the expectations prior to the customer receiving the goods or services. This is the basic philosophy of a big firm. There is supposed to be less risk than if one deals with a small shop. In the case of Amazon, the ads, or a friend, or a next door neighbor, may have lead me to expect free shipping in less than a week. If I order a few things from them over some long period of time, and each item takes longer than my expectations, I may decide not to use them anymore. I may also warn others from using them.

A big shop like amazon require customers, and requires many customers. It is not a small shop that survive on a few regular customers. It certainly survives on seasonal buyers, buyers who want predictability. One recalls Kmart, which did a good job providing a minimal level of service, but did not provide a suitable minimal level of service. One also thinks of wal mart, which provides an excellent minimal level of service, but cannot seem to provide a level of service so that people who actually spend money will shop there. Old customers expect what they are getting and occasional freebies. New customers expect something more than everyone else is offering. Occasional customers are often splurging for something special, i.e higher profit items, or perhaps buying cheap items for the second home, which might lead to future sales if the service is good enough.

Re:Pareto Optimization (1)

zarqman (64555) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463605)

It's a form of Pareto optimization, in which a reallocation of resources is expected to improve the utility for a subgroup without decreasing the utility of others. In this case, users who are not regular Amazon consumers will not have pre-set expectations of service. So fulfilling their orders in a slightly less rushed fashion will not be noticeable to them.
the problem with amazon's approach to this is that they already have some of the slowest shipping times of any retailer online--at least if you want their 'free shipping'. any other retailer with free shipping picks your order promptly, amazon sits on it for a week before bothering. if i'll pay amazon for the shipping, even though it's the _same_ shipping, they'll pick it right away and i'll get it a week sooner. of course, next day or 2 day shipping is faster yet.

i have no idea if i'm considered a regular customer. i tend to order 10-20 items per year from amazon, in a handful of orders. if they would just pick the orders promptly, it would probably be double that.

it would seem the world of online retailers has already set some basic, minimum expectations on delivery times and amazon fails those already. i don't see how this new plan helps at all.

Kill them before they grow! (1)

foldingstock (945985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463103)

So, they're going to take longer to ship products to customers that are less likely to become returning customers? Isn't this oxymoron? They take a group of people that are less likely to be returning customers, and treat them worse then the regular customers. A good business practice would be to treat all your customers equal. Amazon knows what they're doing though, they don't need those filthy one-time shoppers. Really.

Re:Kill them before they grow! (1)

MaxEmerika (701730) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463411)

Not an oxymoron. Self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe.

The patent (3, Interesting)

Cracked Pottery (947450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463113)

I read as much as I could before my eyes glazed over. The patent doesn't simply address individual customers, it describes a system to minimize costs where a large vendor, such as Amazon, has a number of distribution centers. It as much concerns regional demographic features as individual customers.


Now, I hate business method patents in general, but this one appears to be sufficiently arcane as to not risk much litigation. The point being that it would be extremely difficult to prove infringement by another business, given that business practices are typically kept private.

Of course somebody probably has a patent on labeling isles in stores according to what products are found, and I know somebody had to at least try to patent the mall display that provides a map and legend system to locate stores. Those patents, if they exist, would be an easier target for an infringement suit.

Have we reached such a perfect state of justice that lawyers have nothing better to do than this? Isn't there an ambulance to chase somewhere?

How can *this* be patented? (1, Interesting)

renoX (11677) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463119)

Even mom&pops shops have been doing it for a long time: best customers are treated better.

I just don't understand how patents can be delivered for such obvious things..

IANAL, but can the Airlines... (1, Interesting)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463123)

Claim prior art on this one?

Nope. (1)

Nick Driver (238034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463231)

Because they standardize poor service for all customers uniformly. Exactly the same as both wired and wireless phone companies and also all the major brand PC makers too.

Re:IANAL, but can the Airlines... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463599)

No, because the airlines generally do the reverse. "You are obviously a business traveler, who flies more often, therefore we will charge you more."
"You on the other hand, are a casual traveler who only flies occasionally, so we will give you a heavy discount so you don't go to our competitors."

prior art (1)

celle (906675) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463129)

It's called the post office. This just proves the USPTO is patently broken, start over from the beginning where the system made sense or eliminate it entirely. But first execute the idiots in it slowly and don't forget their bosses, as payment for the stupid shit we have had to suffer through so far.

By their bosses I mean congress for gutting it and the president for ignoring it. The reasons can be interchanged and still be true, scary isn't it. Make retroactive executions as well although most of the ones that started this trend are most likely dead already. Ok, new target, lobbyists and corporate heads who wanted it broken. This is, of course, after their punishment for all the other crap thats been dumped on the rest of us. USPTO abuse is minor in comparison.

Please mark first paragragh serious and second funny, although second should still be serious.

Buying from them at Christmas could be iffy then (1)

sjwest (948274) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463145)

OK i dont use amazon that often, but just think what this 'idea' will mean to 'bad' / 'occasional customers' at christmas. Potentially no gifts if you dont buy from them.

Looks like i will be becoming a client of play.com (an alternative to amazon) here in europe.

Well thats an innovatory patent, Bezo's saves the us patent system from ridicule.

Re:Buying from them at Christmas could be iffy the (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463657)

Nokia N800 Tablet for Granny for Christmas anyone?

www.misco.co.uk £251.43 new
www.amazon.co.uk £191.31 new
www.play.com £149.99 new
www.amazon.com £111.33 new ( $228.99 converted using http://www.xe/ucc/ [www.xe] )

The crazy thing is that for something likely designed in Finland and probably made in China, I can probably get it cheaper by importing it back to the UK after it's been exported to the USA from China (even including HMRC import taxes on the www.amazon.com purchase).

If you dont like it... (1)

JackMeyhoff (1070484) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463155)

... dont give them your money.

Prior art? (haha) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463187)

Seriously though, I read awhile back that Best Buy was quoted as saying some customers are just not worth keeping.

fir5t post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463199)

and committees to downlo4d the

RTFP - It's not the same customer's future orders (0, Offtopic)

originalhack (142366) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463217)

Someone should read the actual patents occasionally. Granted, it's a bit hard to see why this would be patented, but everyone above has missed the point.

Start with a simple example.

You have 10 Wii consoles and 10 Wii controllers in your West coast warehouse.

You have 10 Wii controllers in your East cost warehouse.

Normally, you would fill an order for a controller for a West coast customer from the West coast warehouse.

But, if you know that customers always buy the extra Wii controller with the Wii console, you realize that filling an order for a controller from the nearest warehouse will cause you to have to make 2 shipments later when someone orders the last console and the controllers are already depleted in the warehouse where the console is.

Now, they also add a bunch of warehouse workload calculations into the mix, so there is a bit of fancy bookkeeping here.

Stupid subject for a patent.

netflix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463267)

Netflix has been doing this for years, commonly referred to as "throttling."

They are minimizing costs while maximizing.. (1)

impactor (1162157) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463269)

customer satisfaction.
People are putting a lot of emphisis on the customer's reaction. I dont' think this is so much a case of trying to socially engineer people as much as as simple attempt at reducing costs. From the patent, what is being claimed:

"determining a fulfillment plan specific to the order that minimizes future monetary costs of fulfilling expected future orders"

Thats what they are actually patenting. A method of reducing the cost of handling a specific order by using a prediction of future orders. They go on to talk about how to go about building the fulfillment plan. It in includes a mutltitude of factors, including cost of shipping, cost of stocking, the cost associated with running out of items at a distribution center, ect. Included in this list is the cost in customer satisfaction. From the patent:

"assigning costs to at least some of one or more reductions in customer goodwill"

They put a monetary value on how content or discontent a customer will be. They basically put together a bunch of possible fulfillment plans and choose the one which minimizes their cost. Sounds like good business to me.

This isn't a case of rewarding good customers (although that might be an inadvertent outcome... but it's probably not quite as cut and dry as that) and punishing bad ones. This is a case of allocating resources to maximize profits. All businesses do this. If a customer walks into your store, and you're pretty sure he's looking to make a big purchase, you will devote more time (read money) to pleasing him.

not valid (1)

m2943 (1140797) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463311)

Businesses have been doing this for a long time, using various paper-based methods. While a specific way of doing this might be patentable, merely creating a computer version of this shouldn't be a valid patent.

self fulfilling prophecy (0)

fermion (181285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463329)

If you do not ship my stuff, I will not order from you again. It is that simple. It is also classic retail discrimination. A market has an identifiable class of customers. The market uniformly gives them inferiro service or prices with respect to other customer not of that class. Under ideal circumstances, this group of customers could go to a competing operation and get better service, but since the entire market is in collusion, or the market is controlled by a monopoly, there is no where else to go.

For years I ddi not order from amazon because I would receive packages in a couple week where all my friends would get packages in days. It could very well have to do with the prosperity of the zip code. I now do quite a bit of business with Amazon, but it has been cut back due to the number of packages that are taking 2 and 3 days longer to deliver than they should. A retailer always should treat steady customers better than the occasional customer. But that treatment has to do with extras, like free shipping upgrades, not standard service like meeting stated delivery schedules.

Amazon obviously is doing this because they cannot meet stated guarantees for all customers. If this is the case, they should reduce those expectations, not make false claims about what they can and cannot do.

Glass half full vs. half empty (1)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463367)

OK, enough with the negative-veiwpoint-only here. The poster is making it sound like Amazon is trying to patent and codify a method to give bad customer service. This is misleading in the extreme (not that that's anything new in Slashdot articles). Amazon is trying to ID and reward customers who are likely to do larger amounts of business with them in the future.

You can make the argument that the corollary of such a policy is that "bad customers" get the shafted, but that's not the intent. Using that logic, any "customer loyalty program" that anyone ever introduces is shafting someone. Does that sound like a sensible argument?

Re:Glass half full vs. half empty (1)

xinco (1128507) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463545)

No mod points at the moment, but you'd get them if you did. This is no different than a frequent flier program that gives some customers a special line to get serviced faster. One can (and probably should) make the argument that this should not receive a patent. (I only briefly skimmed the patent, so there may be real merit there, so this is just conjecture) But this idea of giving your best customers the best service doesn't make the practice itself bad. I've got a preferred customer account at newegg. I automatically get rush processing for free. Now that may not have any real value, as Newegg almost always manages to ship the same day anyway, but will that always be the case? If enough people get rush processing on a heavy order day, someone else will eventually get bumped to not have their order processed.

Re:Glass half full vs. half empty (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463665)

Using that logic, any "customer loyalty program" that anyone ever introduces is shafting someone. Does that sound like a sensible argument?
No. Was I supposed to expect any?

A related phenomenon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21463375)

I've noticed that as someone who has paid for their Amazon Prime service, if it's within the last hour or two of when they promise next day service for 1-day shipping, the free 2-day shipping I've already paid for by joining their "Prime" service will be delayed until 2 shipping days after the 1-day service is delivered. It used to be blatantly obvious by looking at the estimated delivery times on the product's page but now they'll estimate it to be one day after 1-day service but it'll almost always be delayed by another day (without any warning).

Amazon run a very tight, somewhat dishonest ship. The good news is that if you call them on it they'll throw gift certificates at you occasionally - but eventually writing angry letters gets to be annoying.

I'm baffled by the free shipping (1, Interesting)

gelfling (6534) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463451)

I order to different yet related items yesterday. For some reason one of them was eligible for free shipping. But the default order packaging is to ship the items together and charge me $15. I have to go in, tweak the order, separate it into 2 shipments and the shipping cost goes down by half, that is one of the items is free. They both come to me from the same place. I am scratching my head on this. It can't be good for Amazon to break up the order. And it irritates me to have to muck with their order. Plus - why is only one item eligible for free shipping? Both items are very similar, the cost nearly the same, they come from the same place, and are made by the same company. I'd feel better if they just lied to me and told me that they're giving me a 50% discount on the shipping cost. Or better yet - don't tell me anything at all and wrap it up and charge me the discounted price.

Uh...? (0)

superdan2k (135614) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463485)

"Bad Customer Service for Bad Customers"? Good lord, between working in retail and IT, I have so many cases of prior art, this patent won't last a second.

Patents are often worded to confuse (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 6 years ago | (#21463501)

This is a patent on a system to provide tiered service.. nothing more, nothing less. However it is worded in it's summary or abstract has nothing to do with the method it implements other than to provide an example of how it COULD be used, not how it WILL be used. In fact this could be implemented to provide tiered internet service, tiered data provisioning among servers... ie: it could be used as a clustered server farm system management policy - wherein a server that is not doing so well (DOSed, traffic bound naturally or just in need of an upgraded nic card) would not be sent as many requests to handle.

To truly get an idea of how a patent WILL be used, you have to look at what problem the patent holder is trying to solve (which is probably going to be difficult to guess)... and then generalize a method to fit that problem's solution. A good way to do it is to swap out the nouns with a variety of potential objects and see what would fit. The server farm example is just one that would fit... there are many others.

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