A patent granted to Amazon Technologies, Inc. on May 30, 2017 takes shopping of the future to a spooky new level.

Imagine this scenario for a moment.

In the not-too-distant future, an Amazon retail store opens up in your neighborhood. You’re pretty excited, because these stores are supposedly redefining the way we do our everyday shopping. Rumor has it that you can even “just walk out” with your items, and your Amazon account will be magically charged. It seems fairly promising, so you decide to give it a whirl.

The following weekend, you anxiously pull up to your local Amazon Go for an experimental debut visit. The first thing you notice is that you’re required to scan your phone before entering.

This must be how they link purchases to my Amazon account,” you think to yourself. Bingo!

You then realize that the store provides complimentary Wi-Fi. “That’s a nice touch,” you quietly reflect. “It really ties this whole convenience thing together.”

So far, so good.

Before long, you find yourself in the electronics aisle. You notice the Amazon Smartwatch / Fitness Activity Tracker that you’ve been eyeballing since Christmas. “I think I’m finally ready to casually reference my text messages on my wrist while counting how many steps I take every day,” you say aloud. “I’ll take it!”

You pick it up off the shelf, and instantly your phone vibrates with a Push Notification:

Your Amazon Shopping Cart Has Just Been Updated: Amazon Smartwatch / Fitness Activity Tracker – $100

Wait a minute,” you think. “I just saw a comparable smartwatch online at Acme competitor for only $59.” You put your detective skills to use and determinedly search for “Acme Smartwatch.” Within moments, several promising pages appear.

And this is when things start to get weird.

You first attempt to review the competitor’s webpage, but your access is mysteriously denied.

You try again, only to get suspiciously redirected to a webpage for Amazon’s version of the product. 

This is odd. Something must be wrong with the Wi-Fi.”

You give it a few more tries, but each time to no avail. Your persistence is met with either a refusal of internet access, or a coincidental web ad for Amazon’s comparative product.

Slightly annoyed, and more than a bit suspicious, you decide to purchase the competitor’s product anyway when you get home. You return Amazon’s glimmering top seller back to the shelf and hear your phone’s mobile shopping cart update once again.

But then as you turn to leave, a salesperson approaches you out of nowhere. “Hi, I’m Cory, an Amazon Electronics Specialist. I noticed you had some questions about one of our best wearable devices,” he says with an artificial smile.

I actually don’t have any questions,” you reply.

Cory’s empty gaze remains steadfast. “The Amazon Smartwatch has every bell and whistle known to man. Plus, it has so many more features than Acme’s shoddy knockoff.”

I’m sorry, but why do you mention Acme?” you ask.

OhNo reason.”

Backing away slowly now, you’re certain that things have taken a turn for the worst. You urgently scan the room for an exit, but see none in sight. Suddenly you realize that the lack of any checkout lines has left you completely disoriented. “Damn that Just Walk Out Technology!” you cry.

Then without thinking, you abruptly dash towards the produce aisle praying that Cory I’m-A-Cybernetic-Salesperson won’t follow. He doesn’t, although you’re fairly certain he uttered something about the Playstation 5 you’d been researching at home.

You manage to catch your breath in the produce section, grateful to finally have a moment of respite. Taking stock of your surroundings, you notice that the store entrance is only a few paces away. It’s time this shopping experiment-turned-adventure come to an end, and you begin your graceful journey towards the parking lot when your phone terrifyingly alerts you one last time. 

Trembling, you check the final push notification message:

Amazon’s Smartwatch Discounted 10% – Today Only! See Cory for Details.

AMAZON’S LATEST PATENT

While the above scenario serves to lightheartedly illustrate a point, Amazon has indeed just been granted entitled ‘Physical Store Online Shopping Control.’ Believe it or not, the sole nature of this invention is to monitor, track and control what happens to customers while they’re browsing the web inside a store. The application even boasts some intriguing flow charts:

According to the patent, when a customer of Amazon strolls into their store and begins using Wi-Fi to search for competitor info, the following is a list of “control actions” that could be applied:

  • Access to competitor information may be blocked
  • The consumer device may be redirected to other content
  • “A desired item may be identified and counter-competitive information may be provided to the consumer device”
  • A sales representative may be directed to assist the consumer
  • A SMS message, an email massage, a push notification may be communicated with the consumer device

This short list of methods of course is by no means all-inclusive. The patent also states that “a wide variety of other information may be taken into consideration during the determination of a control action, such as a location of the consumer within the retailer location, a consumer value to the retailer, and/or price comparison information between the retailer and a competitive offering of an item.”

The shopping experience – once a proud celebration of choice, may soon become merely another weapon of control.