FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates generally to an interactive marketing system and method, and more specifically to a method and system for facilitating interaction between consumer and merchant via an interactive television system.
For many years, merchants have used advertising to entice consumers to purchase goods and services. For example, merchants have traditionally appealed to consumers by presenting offers and advertisements on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, through direct mailings and telephone solicitations, and even using signs on the sides of buses. Merchants have also presented advertisements through broadcast media such as radio and television, and more recently via the internet.
Regardless of the medium through which merchants present their messages, however, those messages typically attempt to create or grow, in a consumer, a desire for a particular product or service. Accordingly, in addition to consumers who may already be seeking the relevant goods or services, merchants use advertisements to reach consumers who may not be actively seeking the information presented in the advertisement and who may have been engaged in activities (e.g., watching television, driving or riding in a car) completely unrelated to a quest for the advertised goods or services.
Typically, such advertisements require a consumer to act in some way before a transaction for the advertised good or services can be completed. For example, regardless where a consumer may see or hear a particular advertisement, the consumer has historically been required to either travel to a point of purchase or dispatch a communication (e.g., place a phone call, mail an order) to the merchant before a bargain for the advertised goods or services may be struck between the merchant and the consumer. Unfortunately for the merchant, however, the more complicated or onerous the required act or the more time that lapses between the consumer's receipt of the advertisement and the performance of the required act, the less likely that consumer is to complete the act. Conversely, the simpler and quicker the required act, the more likely a transaction is to be completed. Therefore, it is desirable to enable consumers to respond to advertisements and offers with minimal time and effort, and as expeditiously as possible after perceiving a particular advertisement.
Based on this principle, merchants may place impulse items, such as gum and the like, near a grocery store checkout counter or may suggest the purchase of french fries following a consumer's order of a hamburger.
Yet, while such approaches may be effective where a consumer is already engaged in a transaction with the merchant, significant obstacles remain in situations where transactional activity is not already in progress. For example, where an advertisement is presented to a consumer via a television, and where the advertisement indicates that acceptance of the offer may be performed by placing a telephone call, the consumer must then place the telephone call and present some form of payment such as credit card, debit card or checking account information and must also provide identifying information, e.g., a shipping address. In many cases, these tasks are sufficiently onerous and time consuming to dissuade a consumer from responding to the advertisement.
At the same time, it is well understood that the needs and wants of individual viewers within a viewing audience may vary greatly. Yet, advertisements that are adapted to be presented via traditional means, such as via television or radio broadcast, are typically presented without any consideration or adjustment for variations within the viewing audience. This is largely due to the fact that no satisfactory mechanism currently exists for adjusting a presentation based on real-time feedback from a targeted consumer. In addition, advertisements for presentation via television broadcast are typically prepared well in advance of their broadcast. Accordingly, such advertisements are designed to target the largest portion of the viewing audience and are typically fixed, being incapable of modification in response to feedback from one or more viewer. Thus, the content of such advertisements may not hold any significant appeal for significant portions of the consumer audience. Further, the non-targeted portions of the audience are typically those falling outside the mainstream.
With the advent of the internet, consumers and merchants have been able to partially address the above-mentioned drawbacks of traditional advertising mechanisms. For example, merchants are now able to provide substantial amounts of information on web sites, thereby allowing consumers with very specific needs to find advertisements that suit their particularized needs. Moreover, once internet-equipped consumers have surfed to the advertisement presenting the desired good or service, their purchase is often made very simple and quick through the use of stored information and one-click purchase features.
Yet, even these systems do not completely solve the above-described problems because they typically require the consumer to have actively sought the desired goods or services. Accordingly, currently available internet capabilities may not be effective on attracting viewers who are not already seeking the advertised goods or services. Therefore, they may not be at all effective in persuading consumers who may be engaged in passive activities, such as watching television.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, a need existed for a system and method for facilitating communication between a merchant and a consumer whereby a consumer engaged in a passive activity may be persuaded to seek a particular good or service and whereby the consumer may acquire such good or service from the merchant with a minimum investment if time and effort, e.g., in an instantaneous and effortless manner. A further need existed for a system and method whereby advertisements may be adapted based on feedback provided by a particular consumer or in response to information concerning the consumer that may be stored in the facilitating system. A still further need existed for a system and method that facilitates storage of information regarding the consumer and the consumer's desired payment method whereby such information may be communicated to a merchant to facilitate the consumer's response to an advertisement.
In accordance with one embodiment of the invention, a system and method for facilitating interaction between a consumer and a merchant are provided. In an exemplary embodiment, a system facilitates presentation of an offer via a display, such as a television display, to be viewed by a consumer. In this embodiment, an offer from a merchant is directed to a consumer and describes a predetermined means for acceptance. Once the offer has been presented, the system facilitates receipt of the acceptance from the consumer in accordance with the specified means for acceptance. The system acquires identification information from the consumer and facilitates communication of the acceptance and the identification information to the merchant. Accordingly, the system enables a consumer, who may otherwise be engaged in a passive activity, such as watching a televised broadcast, to be persuaded by an offer for a particular good or service and to be able to accept such an offer from the merchant with a minimum investment if time and/or effort, e.g., in an instantaneous and effortless manner.
In another exemplary embodiment, the display is configured as a television so that the consumer may be engaged in a passive, but entertaining, activity such as viewing live or videotaped television programming. Accordingly, advertisements and offers may be presented to consumers, with means for immediate acceptance of the offers, without requiring those consumers to have volitionally sought the goods or services being offered prior to perception of the offer.
In still another exemplary embodiment, the system facilitates receipt of the acceptance through a means for inputting digital data such as a remote control, an electronic pen, a cell phone, or a button configured to be pressed by the consumer. Still further, the offer may include a simulation of an image of a button presented on the display, and, in such an embodiment, the means for acceptance may include the simulated pressing of the button.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In yet another exemplary embodiment, the system may be configured to modify the presentation of the offer based on information stored in a memory or based on information received as feedback from, or concerning, the consumer. In addition, the system may be configured to acquire payment information either from a memory or from the consumer and to facilitate communication of the payment information to the merchant. It should be noted that the means for communication between the system and the merchant or the merchant's agent may be through any available communication system, such as a telephone system. In an exemplary embodiment, the system facilitates communication directly between the consumer and the merchant or the merchant's agent by establishing a telephone link configured to facilitate voice communication between the consumer and the merchant.
The above-mentioned features and advantages of the present invention can be more clearly understood from the following detailed description considered in conjunction with the following drawings, in which like numerals represent like elements and in which:
FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a system in accordance with the invention for facilitating interaction between a consumer and a merchant; and
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating an exemplary method in accordance with the invention for facilitating interaction between a consumer and a merchant.
FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a system 100 for facilitating interaction between a consumer 110 and a merchant 130 in accordance with the invention. In describing the invention, reference will be made to an interactive television system configured for facilitating interaction between a consumer 110 and a merchant 130, but the invention is not limited to this illustrative embodiment. Further, the invention is illustrated with reference to presentation of advertisements and offers 184 for goods and/or services 115 provided by a merchant 130 to a consumer 110. The consumers 110 can be individual consumers or businesses having employees that are consumers. The invention, however, is not limited to such consumers or such businesses, nor is it limited to communications involving offers and advertisements 184. It is fully contemplated that the invention applies generally to facilitating any communications 184 between a merchant 130 and a consumer 110. Further, wherever this description refers to the communication of information to a consumer, it is contemplated that the recipient of the information may be a system controlled by a consumer, a point of sale office, a global distribution system, a consumer, a party financially related to the consumer, or any other client of the system.
In an exemplary embodiment, the system may be configured as a data processing system that includes a processor for processing digital data, one or more memory coupled to the processor for storing digital data, means, coupled to the one or more memory, for inputting digital data, and a display 101 coupled to the processor and memory for displaying information derived from digital data processed by the processor. In one embodiment, an interface 120 may be configured as an application program, may be stored in the memory, and may be accessible by the processor for directing processing of digital data by the processor and the presentation of information via the display 101.
In accordance with a preferred embodiment, the system 100 includes a database 107 that includes identification and/or preference information relating to the consumer 110. In addition, a second database 108 includes payment information describing how the consumer 110 may wish to pay for transactions in accordance with the acceptance of one or more offer 184. The two databases 107, 108 can, of course, be combined as a single database including all of the information contained in the two separate databases.
The system may include a host server or other computing systems including a processor for processing digital data, a memory coupled to the processor for storing digital data, an input digitizer coupled to the processor for inputting digital data, an application program, such as the interface 120 described above, stored in the memory and accessible by the processor for directing processing of digital data by the processor, a display 101 coupled to the processor and memory for displaying advertisements received from a merchant and/or information derived from digital data processed by the processor and a plurality of databases, that may include consumer identification information, consumer preferences, shipping data, identity verification and/or authentication data and/or like data that could be used in association with the present invention. As those skilled in the art will appreciate the memory and/or the processor may be configured as a smart card that may be employed in conjunction with the system to enable, enhance, and/or configure the system when installed and that may disable the system when removed. It should be appreciated that such a smart card may be employed by being physically inserted into and/or removed from the system or may be implemented remotely in a hard-wired box, a wireless remote control, or another complementary auxiliary device such as a hard-wired or wireless telephone.
As those skilled in the art will appreciate, each computer may include an operating system (e.g., Windows NT, 95/98/2000, Linux, Solaris, etc.) as well as various conventional support software and drivers typically associated with computers. The computers can be in a home or business environment with access to a network. In an exemplary embodiment, access may be had through the Internet through a commercially-available web-browser software package.
Each participant may be equipped with a computing system to facilitate communication, including presentations of advertisements, offers, and the like 184, between a merchant 130, an interface 120, and a consumer 110. The consumer 110 may have a computing unit in the form of a personal computer, although other types of computing units may be used including laptops, notebooks, hand held computers, set-top boxes, and the like. The display 101 that is coupled to the computing unit may be configured to present television programming 160, which may be received from a recording/playback device such as a VCR or DVD player or may be received through a broadcast transmission through a conventional method such as cable transmission, satellite transmission, or UHF or VHF transmission, and the like. The point of sale office has a computing unit implemented in the form of a computer-server, although other implementations are possible. The merchant 130 has a computing center in the form of a main frame computer. However, the merchant 130 may be implemented in other forms, such as a mini-computer, a PC server, a network set of computers, and the like.
Communication between the parties to the advertisement, offer, and acceptance transaction and the system 100 of the present invention may be accomplished through any suitable communication means, such as, for example, a telephone network, Intranet, Internet, point of interaction device (point of sale device, personal digital assistant, cellular phone, kiosk, etc.), infrared remote control, hard-wired remote control, UHF remote control, online communications, off-line communications, wireless communications, and/or the like. One skilled in the art will also appreciate that, for security reasons, any databases, systems, or components of the present invention may consist of any combination of databases or components at a single location or at multiple locations, wherein each database or system includes any of various suitable security features, such as firewalls, access codes, encryption, de-encryption, compression, decompression, and/or the like.
The presentation of advertisements and/or offers and the facilitation of communication between the merchant 130 and the consumer 110 may necessitate additional communication among various third party institutions such as financial institutions and other providers of goods or services, e.g., shippers, payment escrow companies, and the like. The computers of the various parties may be interconnected via a second network, referred to as a transaction network. The transaction network represents existing proprietary networks that presently accommodate electronic communications and transactions. The transaction network may be a closed network that is assumed to be secure from eavesdroppers. Examples of the transaction network include the American Express®, VisaNet® and the Veriphone® network.
The computing units may be connected with each other via a data communication network that may be a public network and that may be assumed to be insecure and open to eavesdroppers. In an exemplary embodiment, the network may be embodied as the internet. In this context, the computers may or may not be connected to the internet at all times. For instance, a client or point of sale computer may employ a modem to occasionally connect to the internet, whereas the interface computing center or the global reservation system computer might maintain a permanent connection to the internet. Specific information related to the protocols, standards, and application software utilized in connection with the Internet may not be discussed herein. For further information regarding such details, see, for example, DILIP NAIK, INTERNET STANDARDS AND PROTOCOLS (1998); JAVA 2 COMPLETE, various authors, (Sybex 1999); DEBORAH RAY AND ERIC RAY, MASTERING HTML 4.0 (1997). LOSHIN, TCP/IP CLEARLY EXPLAINED (1997). All of these texts are hereby incorporated by reference.
The systems may be suitably coupled to the network via data links. A variety of conventional communications media and protocols may be used for data links. Such as, for example, a connection to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) over the local loop as is typically used in connection with standard modem communication, cable modem, Dish networks, ISDN, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), or various wireless communication methods. Client systems might also reside within a local area network (LAN) which interfaces to network via a leased line (T1, D3, etc.). Such communication methods are well known in the art, and are covered in a variety of standard texts. See, e.g., GILBERT HELD, UNDERSTANDING DATA COMMUNICATIONS (1996), hereby incorporated by reference.
The system and its functional elements may be implemented and distributed among the various parties. In an exemplary implementation, the transaction network may be implemented as computer software modules loaded onto the various computer systems of some of the parties, e.g., the point of sale office and the merchant, so that the computers of the other parties. e.g., the clients, do not require any additional software to participate in the transactions supported by the transaction system.
The databases discussed herein may be any type of database, such as relational, hierarchical, object-oriented, and/or the like. Common database products that may be used to implement the databases include DB2 by IBM (White Plains, N.Y.), any of the database products available from Oracle Corporation (Redwood Shores, Calif.), Microsoft Access or MSSQL by Microsoft Corporation (Redmond, Wash.), or any other database product. The database may be organized in any suitable manner, including as data tables or lookup tables. Association of certain data may be accomplished through any data association technique known and practiced in the art. For, example, the association may be accomplished either manually or automatically. Automatic association techniques may include, for example, a database search, a database merge, GREP, AGREP, SQL, and/or the like. The association step may be accomplished by a database merge function, for example, using a “key field” in each of the manufacturer and retailer data tables. A “key field”partitions the database according to the high-level class of objects defined by the key field. For example, a certain class may be designated as a key field in both the first data table and the second data table, and the two data tables may then be merged on the basis of the class data in the key field. In this embodiment, the data corresponding to the key field in each of the merged data tables is preferably the same. However, data tables having similar, though not identical, data in the key fields may also be merged by using AGREP, for example.
The interaction process 200 starts, at step 210, where the system receives offer or advertisement information 182 from a merchant. Upon receipt of the offer information 182, the interface may retrieve interface information, step 220, may collect, from databases 107, 108, consumer preference information, step 224, that may be useful in adapting the offer, step 226, to be presented via the display and to be suited to the desires, tastes, preferences or other applicable attributes of the targeted consumer 110. Then, the interface transmits the amended offer or advertisement information 183 to a display 101 to be presented to the consumer 110, step 230.
Once the consumer has perceived the offer or advertisement, if the consumer wishes to accept the offer, the consumer may perform the specified act of acceptance, step 236, which may include clicking on a simulated button on the display 101, pressing a button or series of buttons on a remote control 125, placing a cell phone call 126, speaking into a microphone 127, or performing any other act predefined to indicate acceptance of the offer when perceived by the system, step 240.
Upon receipt of an acceptance of the offer, step 240, the interface 120 may combine the fact of acceptance with consumer identification information retrieved from a database and with consumer payment information retrieved from a database, step 244. The interface may then transmit the amended acceptance 132 to the merchant 130, step 250. It should be noted that the amended acceptance 132 may include the consumer identification information and the consumer payment information.
Finally, once the merchant has received the amended acceptance 132, step 274, the merchant may complete the transaction by dispatching the goods or services to the consumer, step 270, and reconciling the consumer's account, step 278. It should also be noted that the merchant may also develop a consumer, transaction/offer database, step 280, based on offers presented and/or accepted as well as consumer information acquired.
In these and other steps in accordance with the invention, a computer is identified as the operative instrument for carrying out the steps. In accordance with a preferred embodiment of the invention, all steps in the process are carried out on a centralized computer that has access to all of the relevant databases. Alternatively, the functions carried out by computer can be carried out by a plurality of local computers, preferably localized computers that are linked together.
Thus it is apparent that there has been provided, in accordance with the invention, a system and method that fully meet the needs specified above. Although the system and method have been described and illustrated with reference to specific illustrative embodiments, it is not intended that the invention be limited to these illustrative embodiments. Those skilled in the art will recognize that many variations and modifications to these illustrative embodiments are possible without departing from the spirit and scope of the appended claims. For example, as noted above, the databases that have been referred to can be individual databases, a single central database, or databases partitioned in ways other than as illustrated in the figures. Preferably the invention is practiced through use of a single central computer which can contain all transactions for a particular client, regardless of location of that client or various departments, divisions or other segments of that client.
It will be appreciated, that many applications of the present invention could be formulated. One skilled in the art will appreciate that the network may include any system for exchanging data or transacting business, such as the Internet, an intranet, an extranet, WAN, LAN, satellite communications, and/or the like. It is noted that the network may be implemented as other types of networks, such as an interactive television (ITV) network. The users may interact with the system via any input device such as a keyboard, mouse, kiosk, personal digital assistant, handheld computer (e.g., Palm Pilot(®), cellular phone and/or the like. Similarly, the invention could be used in conjunction with any type of personal computer, network computer, workstation, minicomputer, mainframe, or the like running any operating system such as any version of Windows, Windows NT, Windows2000, Windows 98, Windows 95, MacOS, OS/2, BeOS, Linux, UNIX, Solaris or the like. Moreover, although the invention is frequently described herein as being implemented with TCP/IP communications protocols, it will be readily understood that the invention could also be implemented using IPX, Appletalk, IP-6, NetBIOS, OSI or any number of existing or future protocols. Moreover, the system contemplates the use, sale or distribution of any goods, services or information over any network having similar functionality described herein.
It should be appreciated that the particular implementations shown and described herein are illustrative of the invention and its best mode and are not intended to otherwise limit the scope of the present invention in any way. Indeed, for the sake of brevity, conventional data networking, application development and other functional aspects of the systems (and components of the individual operating components of the systems) may not be described in detail herein. Furthermore, the connecting lines shown in the various figures contained herein are intended to represent exemplary functional relationships and/or physical couplings between the various elements. It should be noted that many alternative or additional functional relationships or physical connections may be present in a practical electronic transaction system.
As will be appreciated by one of ordinary skill in the art, the present invention may be embodied as a method, a data processing system, a device for data processing, and/or a computer program product. Accordingly, the present invention may take the form of an entirely software embodiment, an entirely hardware embodiment, or an embodiment combining aspects of both software and hardware. Furthermore, the present invention may take the form of a computer program product on a computer-readable storage medium having computer-readable program code means embodied in the storage medium. Any suitable computer-readable storage medium may be utilized, including hard disks, CD-ROM, optical storage devices, magnetic storage devices, and/or the like.
The present invention may be described herein in terms of functional block components, screen shots, optional selections, various processing steps, block diagrams and flowchart illustrations of methods, apparatus (e.g., systems), and computer program products according to various aspects of the invention. It should be appreciated that such functional blocks may be realized by any number of hardware and/or software components configured to perform the specified functions. For example, the present invention may employ various integrated circuit components, e.g., memory elements, processing elements, logic elements, look-up tables, and the like, which may carry out a variety of functions under the control of one or more microprocessors or other control devices. It will further be understood that each functional block of the block diagrams and the flowchart illustrations, and combinations of functional blocks in the block diagrams and flowchart illustrations, respectively, can be implemented by computer program instructions. These computer program instructions may be loaded onto a general purpose computer, special purpose computer, or other programmable data processing apparatus to produce a machine, such that the instructions which execute on the computer or other programmable data processing apparatus create means for implementing the functions specified in the flowchart block or blocks.
The software elements of the present invention may be implemented with any programming or scripting language such as C, C++, Java, COBOL, assembler, PERL, Visual Basic, SQL Stored Procedures, extensible markup language (XML), with the various algorithms being implemented with any combination of data structures, objects, processes, routines or other programming elements. These computer program instructions may also be stored in a computer-readable memory that can direct a computer or other programmable data processing apparatus to function in a particular manner, such that the instructions stored in the computer-readable memory produce an article of manufacture including instruction means which implement the function specified in the flowchart block or blocks. The computer program instructions may also be loaded onto a computer or other programmable data processing apparatus to cause a series of operational steps to be performed on the computer or other programmable apparatus to produce a computer-implemented process such that the instructions which execute on the computer or other programmable apparatus provide steps for implementing the functions specified in the flowchart block or blocks.
Accordingly, functional blocks of the block diagrams and flowchart illustrations support combinations of means for performing the specified functions, combinations of steps for performing the specified functions, and program instruction means for performing the specified functions. It will also be understood that each functional block of the block diagrams and flowchart illustrations, and combinations of functional blocks in the block diagrams and flowchart illustrations, can be implemented by either special purpose hardware-based computer systems which perform the specified functions or steps, or suitable combinations of special purpose hardware and computer instructions.
In the foregoing specification, the invention has been described with reference to specific embodiments. However, it will be appreciated that various modifications and changes can be made without departing from the scope of the present invention. The specification and figures are to be regarded in an illustrative manner, rather than a restrictive one, and all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of present invention. For example, the steps recited in any of the method or process descriptions may be executed in any order and are not limited to the order presented.
Benefits, other advantages, and solutions to problems have been described above with regard to specific embodiments. However, the benefits, advantages, solutions to problems, and any element(s) that may cause any benefit, advantage, or solution to occur or become more pronounced are not to be construed as critical, required, or essential features. As used herein, the terms “comprises”, “comprising”, or any other variation thereof, are intended to cover a non-exclusive inclusion, such that a process, method, article, or apparatus that comprises a list of elements does not include only those elements but may include other elements not expressly listed or inherent to such process, method, article, or apparatus. Further, no element described herein is required for the practice of the invention unless expressly described as “essential” or “critical”.