Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle.
Amazon has earned plenty of sales from shoppers comparing its prices to those of items on the store shelves in front of them.
Now the online retail giant has locked down a patent on technology to prevent people from doing just that in its own stores.
The system, filed under the Orwellian title "Physical store online shopping control," would intercept certain URLs, search terms, and other web activity that takes place on its in-store Wi-Fi.
The document explains how that information could potentially be used to send you a digital coupon to cover the price difference between a product in the store and a cheaper offer you might have viewed online.
Amazon could also dispatch a store employee to talk you out of a competitor’s deal, suggest a complementary purchase, or even just block or redirect you from viewing online alternatives altogether.
Discounts are nice, but the prospect of Amazon effectively watching your phone screen over your shoulder or preventing you from seeing certain pages is a bit disconcerting. Granted, were it to be implemented, you could easily avoid the system altogether by surfing on cell service rather than the building’s wireless network.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who’s famous for planning out his business roadmap years in advance, first filed for the patent in 2012.
As with all patents, there’s no telling when or exactly how this tech might be implemented, if it is at all. Amazon’s push into physical stores is still very young so there may be a lot of growing to do first.
The patent is a bit ironic considering that Amazon has spent years making tools designed to undercut traditional retailers. For instance, Amazon’s app lets you simply point your phone camera at an item or barcode to view its competing listing.
The company’s also been a staunch proponent of "net neutrality," the principle that internet service providers should treat all web traffic as equal and not, say, block certain web pages in their own commercial interest.