Amazon's been given a patent for an automated system allowing customers to exchange unwanted gifts before they've even shipped.
The patent describes a 'gift conversion' wizard that would allow recipients to pre-register with Amazon with a list of rules over what they'll deign to accept.
For example, they could tell the system to automatically convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred into gift certificates because she invariably comes up with rubbish ones - or "has different tastes than the user", as the patent application more tactfully puts it. The system can even be set to automatically write and thank her for the original gift.
Other filters could be applied, such as 'no clothes with wool', 'check clothes size first' or 'no books by Dan Brown'.
"The gift giving experience through network shopping services would be improved for both senders and recipients if enhanced systems and methods were provided for converting gifts," the patent says.
The idea has big advantages for Amazon - although not for postal and courier companies. It's been estimated that as many as a third of gifts bought through Amazon are returned or exchanged, and the company spends millions of dollars and man-hours dealing with these.
The danger is that people will just give up on sending gifts altogether, and just cut out the middle man by only sending certificates in the first place.
Personally, I'm going to make damned sure that I never send a gift from Amazon ever again. If I've decided that I want my niece to have a scratchy sweater in a hideous shade of orange, then by God that's what she's going to get.