Can Amazon's Web Video Patent Slash Product Returns?

Can Amazon use Web video to reduce unwarranted product returns? Although the market will ultimately answer that question, the U.S. Patent Office thinks the idea is clever enough to merit a patent, which it issued Tuesday (March 30).

The idea behind the patent—see all of the Patent's glorious tech and logistical specs here—is for Amazon to video each package as it's being fulfilled and link the clip to the specific order number. The video would show what goes in the box and then do a close-up of the address label as the box is sealed. A link would access either still images or video clips or both.

This idea could prove quite profitable. First, it would serve as a nice high-tech differentiator. ("Go ahead, Phil's House Of Lamps, try and match this!") Second, it would provide honest Amazon customers—or, better yet, prospects—a reason to feel confident that Amazon will get their orders right. After all, what employee will be slipshod about packaging when that employee knows his/her every move is being filmed?

Third, mistakes happen. Don't forget the adage that consumers should judge retailers not by how often they're right but by how a retailer acts when it's wrong. The proof will likely be so clear that it should allow for a very antiseptic and quick resolution, which is better for both sides. Fourth, it's a wonderful tactic to discourage fraudsters. Or, ideally, send them to your rivals.

Unlike some of the more infamous Patent applications reported recently, this one could actually be applicable to a wide range of other retailers—assuming those retail execs could ever get comfortable with the idea of writing Amazon a royalty check. This approach could also be used to deal with misrouted package complaints—lodged by either the retailer or the consumer—against various delivery services.

Speaking of delivery services, what if FedEx or UPS started filming and cataloging their deliveries? Not only could it prove delivery more effectively than a signature, but it would come in handy for finding out exactly where mis-delivered packages really went. I've had several packages not arrive, only to have the delivery service swear that it was delivered to me. Usually a visit to a neighbor with a similar house number turns up the missing goods. Wouldn't that video have been convenient for all?