Amazon has made plenty of money snagging sales from physical shops, letting customers compare prices online for items they see on shelves and racks. Now the company is pushing forward with technology that would block shoppers from doing the same in its own brick-and-mortar stores.
In an ironic turn of events, Amazon has filed a patent for the sinisterly titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control”. This is a system that would allow Amazon to intercept certain URLs and search terms, accessed across the Wi-Fi of its new physical stores. In essence, it’s a way to stop customers from checking whether items can be bought for cheaper online.
The patent document explains that, if the system finds you looking at competitor sites, a number of “control actions” will be undertaken. This ranges from outright blocking access to the page in question, to having a shop employee talk you out of shopping elsewhere. The system can also send coupons to your browser, or recommend complementary items.
Everyone loves a coupon, but having a shop assistant tap you on the shoulder and bargain about prices sounds just a teensy bit disturbing. Blocking and redirecting pages is controlling enough – bringing a physical dimension to proceedings risks teetering it over the edge into outright sinister.
Of course, you can avoid the system altogether by simply not using the in-store Wi-Fi, and just because the patent has been filed doesn’t necessary mean it will be put into action. Regardless, siloing customer’s online shopping choices is somewhat hypocritical coming from a company that professes to be an ardent supporter of net neutrality.
The “Physical Store Online Shopping Control” also taps into wider issues about the incongruity of online and offline methods to persuade shoppers. The use of targeted advertising, for example – which is central to Amazon’s tactics – is an everyday factor of shopping online. Bring it into the real world, however, and the mildly irritating risks becoming physically invasive.