WO2001016786A1 - Method of conducting an on-line gift exchange - Google Patents

Method of conducting an on-line gift exchange Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2001016786A1
WO2001016786A1 PCT/US2000/023210 US0023210W WO0116786A1 WO 2001016786 A1 WO2001016786 A1 WO 2001016786A1 US 0023210 W US0023210 W US 0023210W WO 0116786 A1 WO0116786 A1 WO 0116786A1
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WO
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Prior art keywords
gift
recipient
subroutine
computer
giver
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PCT/US2000/023210
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French (fr)
Inventor
Darren Chamish
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Pickyourpresent.Com, Ltd.
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/02Marketing, e.g. market research and analysis, surveying, promotions, advertising, buyer profiling, customer management or rewards; Price estimation or determination

Abstract

A gift exchange manager for managing a gift exchange conducted on a network (100) including a gift giver's computer, a recipient's computer, and a gift exchange computer (4) is provided. The gift exchange manager (5) comprises a database (11) including data for a plurality of gifts sorted into mutually exclusive price categories, and a computer program for running on the gift exchange computer. The computer program includes subroutines for displaying the price categories, for accepting input from the gift giver selecting one of the price categories and identifying an address for the recipient, for sending a notification to the recipient that the recipient may select a gift, for displaying gifts in the price category without displaying the price category, for accepting input from the recipient selecting a gift from the price category, and for notifying a supplier to ship the selected gift.

Description

METHOD OF CONDUCTING AN ON-LINE GIFT EXCHANGE

BACKGROUND

1. Field of the Invention The present invention relates to the field of conducting on-line gift exchanges using a computer network.

2. Description of the Related Art

The exchange of gifts between individuals has been a time-honored custom that stretches back through recorded history. Traditionally, a gift giver selects and purchases a product or service for the gift recipient. Gifts are often exchanged as part of religious or secular holidays as well as to mark the recipient's birthday, or personal achievement (e.g., graduation, bar mitzvah, or retirement). Gifts are also often exchanged to express the giver's sympathy or empathy with the recipient's grief or other personal tragedy. The traditional gift exchange process has also been adapted for use on the Internet. As used herein, the Internet refers to the World Wide Web (WWW) and other facilities which allow a user to access information stored on server computers linked to a telecommunications network, wherein each such server may have one or more web sites, each having a unique address. These sites are commonly accessed by a user running web browser software on the user's computer, which allows the user to access a particular site by entering the Internet protocol address or web site domain name, or by selecting a link from another web site. Gift exchanges performed over the Internet, or "on-line gift exchanges," have proven to be very popular and the success of these systems involve three major features. First, the gift giver has access to detailed text, audio, and video presentations of the products and services selectable as gifts. Second, the gift giver may make the selection and pay for the gift from the gift giver's computer or other convenient computer connected to the Internet. Third, the storage capability of the servers allows the gift giver access to virtually instantaneous presentations of a large number of products and services as potential gift selections.

Several on-line Internet gift exchange systems have been proposed and/ or implemented. Some large shopping web sites, commonly called "e- tailers," have a gift option. A gift giver can order an item to be delivered to a different address than the billing address, i ^, the recipient's address. A few offer digital gift certificates for a specific monetary denomination and are treated as cash in a purchase. These sites index their products by type rather than by mutually exclusive price categories. Certain web sites, for example, 911gifts.com, are "general" gift mass e-tailers. They carry an assortment of gifts for the gift giver who must search through the assortment to find the item desired to be delivered as a gift to the recipient. The 91 1gift.com web site offers "quick gifts", which arrive at the recipient's house within two days of ordering the item.

Other web sites (e.g., giftpoint.com and giftcertificates.com), sell retail gift certificates over the Internet. The web sites offer an option whereby a gift giver buys a dollar-denominated digital gift certificate that is sent via e-mail or surface mail. The recipient then accesses the gift certificate web site and converts the digital dollar denominated certificate into retail dollar denominated gift certificate(s) of their choice. Finally, certain web sites (e.g., flooz.com), allow a gift giver to buy a certain amount of dollar- denominated electronic currency, and send this "e- currency" to a gift recipient, which allows the recipient to purchase a gift from e-tailers approved by the electronic currency web site. This allows the gift giver to control the dollar amount of the gift while allowing the recipient to choose their gift.

In each of these on-line gift exchange systems and methods, either the gift giver or the recipient is required to do an undesirable amount of searching for the appropriate gift. Gift exchanges using shopping web sites require the gift giver to search each such site to find the proper gift type in the desired price range. Neither shipping nor general gift e-tailer web sites allow the recipient to have any input in the selection of the gift. Gift certificate and electronic currency web sites require that the recipient search through the web sites of other e-tailers in order to redeem the value of the gift, and also by their very nature disclose the price of the gift to the recipient. Excess electronic spare change is an unwanted residual effect of these types of processes.

Some web sites (e.g., hallmark.com, 3dgreeting.com) offer services which allow a user to send an electronic greeting card, or "e-card", to a recipient via the Internet. The user enters the recipient's name, message, and email address into dialog boxes on the e-card service's web site, and the e-card service sends the e-card to the recipient. Some of these web sites offer the ability to buy and mail a gift, selected from a catalog on the e-card service's web site, along with the sending of the e-card. Certain e-tailers (e.g., gift.com, findgift.com) offer on-line gift registry services where the registry user (i.e., the ultimate recipient of the registered gifts) selects and "tags" gifts from a catalog on the e-tailers web site. The tagged gifts are added to the recipient's registry. Some of these registry services allow the recipient to register gifts sold by other e-tailers, and in such a system, the registry is made up of links to those e-tailers' web sites.

There is thus a need for an on-line gift exchange system whereby the gift giver may choose and pay for the price of a gift selected from mutually- exclusive price categories, the gift recipient receives a notification of the gift without revealing the price of the gift, and the gift recipient is not required to search through multiple independent web sites in order to select a gift of the desired type.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

To address the shortcomings of the prior art, the present invention provides for a gift exchange manager for managing a gift exchange conducted on a network including a gift giver's computer, a recipient's computer, and a gift exchange computer. The gift exchange manager comprises a database including data for a plurality of gifts sorted into mutually exclusive price categories, and a computer program for running on the gift exchange computer. The computer program includes subroutines for displaying the price categories, for accepting input from the gift giver selecting one of the price categories and identifying an address for the recipient, for sending a notification to the recipient that the recipient may select a gift, for displaying gifts in the price category without displaying the price category, for accepting input from the recipient selecting a gift from the price category, and for notifying a supplier to ship the selected gift.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 illustrates a computer network and system which may be advantageously used to practice the invention.

FIG. 2 illustrates a web site homepage embodying an aspect of the invention.

FIG. 3 illustrates a gift selection web site page embodying an aspect of the invention. FIGS. 4A and 4B illustrate a gift preview window and full description window embodying an aspect of the invention.

FIG. 5A illustrates an order page, and FIG. 5B illustrates an e-card review page, embodying aspects of the invention.

FIG. 6 is a flow chart illustrating a gift exchange method embodying an aspect of the invention.

FIG. 7 is a flow chart illustrating an electronic greeting card method embodying an aspect of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is an overview of a computer network which may be used to practice the on-line gift exchange method of the present invention.

Computer network 100 is composed of at least user computers li, I2 . . . In and gift exchange computer 4 connected to telecommunication network 2. Supplier computer 8 may also form a part of computer network 100 if it is also connected to telecommunication network 2. Communication between user computers l i, I2 . . . In, gift exchange computer 4, and if applicable, supplier computer 8, are preferably made using e-mail and/ or Internet protocol transmissions.

User computers li, I2 . . . In are used by gift givers and recipients to access gift exchange computer 4. Gift exchange computer 4 includes a gift exchange manager 5 which may be implemented in software and/ or hardware. As used herein, gift exchange computer 4 may comprise one or more computers or systems of computers. In one embodiment, the gift exchange manager 5 includes a computer program running on gift exchange computer 4 which further includes subroutines for the selection, notification, and other functions discussed in more detail below. Gift exchange computer 4 hosts the web site 6 maintained by gift exchange service 3. Supplier computer 8 is controlled and administered by supplier 7, and may be connected to gift exchange computer 4 via a connection 10 (which may be a local area network, or wide area network connection), or may not have any connection to gift exchange computer 4. Gift exchange computer 4 also includes gift database 11 which, as discussed below, includes data describing gift products and services categorized by price, product, occasion, shipment data, and back- order status, as well as user database 12 which, as discussed below, stores data describing gift givers, recipients, and gift orders.

Network 100 may also include an e-card computer or computers (not shown), which may host an e-card website (not shown) and may also include an e-card database (not shown). A gift giver, operating a user computer 1 as described above, accesses gift exchange web site 6, chooses the price of an "epresent certificate" from an available list of mutually exclusive price categories, and furnishes the gift exchange computer 4 of gift exchange service 3 with the information regarding the occasion, a greeting, the recipients name and contact information, the gift giver's name and contact information, the sending date of the gift, the quantity and price of the gift, and the gift giver's payment information. The gift exchange computer 4 e-mails or otherwise communicates to the gift recipient, by a link or other means, a congratulatory e-card, which includes an invitation to access the gift exchange web site 6 and choose from a wide variety of prepaid presents from the web site 6. The recipient has the choice from a plurality of gifts in a plurality of mutually exclusive price categories. After the recipient selects a gift and enters mailing statistics, epresent certificate number, and password, the gift is shipped from the supplier's warehouse 9 directly to the recipient. The gift exchange computer then e-mails the gift giver with a notification of which gift was selected.

Thus, the gift exchange is made on a non-disclosed monetary value basis at the recipient level. The epresent certificate enables the recipient the ability to choose an item from a pre- selected specific group of products without the knowledge of the price of the certificate. The gift database 11 creates the catalog of these products in each category in real time from a tagging based on mutually exclusive price groupings.

FIG. 2 illustrates one embodiment of a homepage 200 of the web site 6 aspect of the invention. In the main body of the page 210 are mutually exclusive occasion category links 211 (Birthday, Wedding, Christmas, etc). Under each occasion category link are links 212 for mutually exclusive occasion price categories (For example: 20, 35, 50, 75, 100, 150, 250, 500, and 1000 dollars). On the left hand side 220, there are lists of mutually exclusive product category links 221 (e.g., baby, housewares, CDs, Home Office). Each of these product categories will also have a mutually exclusive product type price links 222 below them similar to the occasion price category links 212 described above. On the left-hand side 220 there is a "search gift" dialog box 223 to search the gift database 11. Also on the left hand side 220, there is a dialog box 224 for gift recipients to put in a number to retrieve their epresent certificate, and a dialog box 225 for the gift giver to check the status, stored in the user database 12, of each epresent certificate or product ordered by that gift giver. Dialog box 225 also allows a recipient to check the status, stored in user database 12, of each gift selection made by the recipient. In the top area 230 there are quick buy links (epresent certificate access) 231 for each mutually exclusive epresent certificate price category. On the right hand side 240, links 241 to featured brand-name items or on-sale items are presented. When a user comes to the gift exchange web site 6 for the first time, a popup window 250 appears with instructions and a description of the services available through the gift exchange web site 6.

FIG. 3 illustrates one embodiment of a gift selection page 300 of the web site 6 that appears when either of links 212, 222, or 231 are selected from home page 200. This page is divided into three main areas. A top area 310, a main frame 320, and a narrow vertical left hand side frame 330 that is the height of the main frame 320. The top area 310 includes a changing logo 311 that matches the category selected (e.g.. Sporting Goods, Birthday). Various price categories in the form of text links 312 will be displayed horizontally above the main frame. The left-hand side area 330 includes scrollable frames including text links 331 to the gift categories. If the user selects one of the mutually exclusive occasion price category links 212 (e.g., Birthday-$50) from homepage 200, area 330 displays a list of all the top-level category headings for this category (e.g.. Sporting Goods, Home Office). If the user selects a mutually exclusive product price category link 222 (e.g.. Sporting Goods-$100) from homepage 200, then area 330 opens with the sub-categories (e.g., Baseball, Football) within the selected product category (i.e., Sporting Goods) and the top-level categories 332 surround the subsections in the scroll. Above the scroll list, there is a "Buy an epresent certificate" Link 333 and a link 334 a "shopping basket" or "shopping cart" which uses the data stored in user database 12 to display the gifts the gift giver has already selected.

The main frame 320 includes links to pages offering following options: "Help" (fink 321) "Instructions" (link 322) "Preview Gifts" (Link 323); and "Order epresent certificate" (Link 324).

The center of main frame 320 includes a welcome message 325, and a brief explanation 326 on how to navigate this section. If the user selects an occasion link 212 from home page 200 (e.g., Birthday-$50) then the left background of main frame 320 includes graphics 327 for a birthday. Similar to the instruction page below, this page displays some gifts 328 on the right hand side of main frame 320 in that category.

The "Help" page (not shown) accessed from link 321 displays data from user database 12 including frequently asked questions ("FAQ's"), policies and a contact section with a telephone number and email address for the gift exchange service 3.

The "Instructions" page (not shown) accessed from link 322 will give a brief explanation about the goods and services provided by gift exchange service 3, and includes how a user navigates around the gift exchange web site 6. On the right hand side of this page images of a few gifts are displayed vertically, similar to gifts 328 displayed on mainframe 320 of gift selection page 300.

The "Preview Gifts" page (not shown) accessed from link 323 opens with featured gifts on the right hand side, and includes the product categories in a left-hand side frame, as well as the price categories in the top frame, similar to gift selection page 300. If the user accessed the Preview Gifts page by selecting an occasion link 212 (i.e. Birthday-$50) from homepage 200, then $50 items organized by product type will be displayed. If the user accessed the Preview Gifts page from a product category link 222, or selects a text link 331 in the left frame of the gift selection page 300, the gifts displayed are from that group specifically (e.g.. Sporting Goods).

FIG. 4A illustrates a gift preview window 400 which appears on the user's screen once a subcategory is selected from the left frame 330. A series of thumbnail pictures 401 with corresponding descriptions 402 are presented. As an example, if the "Baseball" product subcategory is selected, there might be eight different pictures 401 of bats, balls or other products, and beside each product is a one or two line description 402 about the product.

FIG. 4B illustrates a full preview page 410 which opens when a user selects one of the products presented on gift preview window 400. The full preview page 410 includes an image 411 and full description 412 of the selected products as well as a "Buy this item" link 413, a "Order this epresent certificate" link 414, previous and next gift links (415 and 416), and an "enlarge picture" link 417. The gift search dialog box 223 on the homepage 200 will open up to a gift preview window 400 containing pictures and descriptions of products from gift database 11 that fit the search description entered by the user into the search dialog box 223.

FIG. 5A illustrates an epresent certificate order web page 500 that appears if the gift giver selects a "quick buy" (i.e., "express buy epresent certificate") link 231 on home page 200, the "Order epresent certificate" link 324 on gifts selection page 300, the "Order this epresent certificate" link 414 on full preview page 410, or the direct link 333 on top of the left frame of gift selection page 300. Order page 500 includes graphics 501 showing accepted credit cards, as well as gift exchange service telephone number 502 and logo 503. At each stage of the ordering process, an instruction 504 indicates the status of the process. Information is selected and entered in dialog boxes appearing in area 505 of web page 500.

The first screen in area 505 indicates the gift giver's e-card options. This includes text links to a large number of occasion cards, as well as a selection of the most popular cards in a thumbnail format of e-cards organized by occasion. The first screen in area 505 also first includes links allowing the user to view other examples of e-cards for each occasion. After the gift giver selects an e-card, web page 500 is refreshed, and a dialog box appears in area 505 having a link to the gift giver's personal address book that includes information stored in database 12 about previous epresent certificate purchases and the presents chosen. Selecting the address book link accesses the address book page, which includes a list of previous recipients which allows the gift giver to select a previous recipient, whose information will then appear in area 505. Once selected, the order form will refresh with the recipient information as the default to expedite the ordering process. By accessing a link, the gift giver may enter a "Post Dated Presents" page where the gift giver may pre-select specific recipients to receive either epresent certificates or specific gifts at specific times for specific occasions to execute automatically in the future.

The remainder of the dialog box in area 505 requests the gift giver to supply the following information, which is stored in user database 12: 1. Greeting; dialog box with default typed (e.g., Dear) ; 2. Recipient name;

3. Dialog boxes allowing the gift giver to enter the recipient's e-mail address (if an e-card is to be sent via the Internet), a mailing address (if a printed card is to be mailed by gift exchange service 3), or options in which the gift giver is not required to enter an address and prints out the card at a convenient location, (i.e., the gift giver's printer or facsimile machine).

4. Big dialog box for personal comments;

5. Country; pull down menu with countries that the gift exchange service will ship to, used to calculate shipping cost;

6. Password type; the gift giver is instructed to select a password type that both gift giver and recipient parties would know; by means of a dialog box or pull-down menu the gift giver may select whether this password is a home, office, or other telephone number or other password type;

7. Password and password confirmation;

8. Farewell; pull down menu or dialog box with farewell options. (e.g. Love, Bye);

9. Gift giver's name; 10. Gift giver's e-mail address;

11. Single pull menu for the date the card is to arrive, (e.g. Thursday, April 18, 1999);

12. Price pull down; the default will be the price that the gift giver selected to arrive at the order form; 13. Quantity;

14. Shipping speed (e.g., one-week, overnight); and

15. Proceed Button.

Area 505 may also be refreshed with a dialog box for selecting shipment method (information point 3 above) before the additional information is requested. Area 505 also includes a link which allows the gift giver to make multiple purchases of the same epresent certificate where the only difference among the orders is each recipient's name and addresses. Selecting this link accesses a template having vertical columns with dialog boxes for the recipient's name, recipient's addresses, and password (i.e., telephone number). After the gift giver completes the gift information supply page, area 505 is refreshed, as shown in FIG. 5B, with a preview of the e-card 506 with a shaded box 507 on the mid-height right side that displays the price, shipping cost, arrival date and total cost. From this page, the gift giver selects either a "Go to Checkout", link 508, an "Add to Cart and Keep Shopping" link 509, or a "Change Information" link 510. The "Checkout" link 508 accesses a payment verification page. The "Add to Cart and Keep Shopping", link 509 returns the gift giver to gift selection page 300 for the last-selected product or occasion price category. The "Change Information" Link 510 refreshes area 505 with the ordering information previously entered in dialog boxes as described above.

After the gift giver has selected "Checkout", area 505 refreshes with a credit card information dialog box and verification page and, if verified, to a "thank you" page. If the credit card information entered is not verified, the gift giver is notified of the reason the verification failed and is returned to a refreshed credit card dialog box in area 505. Verification of the gift giver's credit card information triggers the gift exchange computer 4 to send (via e- mail or other method) a message to the sender confirming the order, and to schedule delivery of a card (e.g., an e-card, surface mail, or facsimile card) to be sent to the recipient as per the instructions entered by the gift giver as described above. The "thank you" page will also have a link to a registration page. By selecting this link, the gift giver accesses the registration page, which includes all the information described above as well as dialog boxes for an account name and password. By registering this information, the order and credit card information is entered into the gift giver's address book within user database 12, which allows the gift giver to track their purchases and make further ordering quicker and easier by eliminating duplicate entry of information. As discussed above, users also have the option to buy and send the item as a gift or buy it for themselves. When users are previewing items on full preview page 410 they can select the full-detail description that reads, "buy this item" (as opposed to "buy this epresent certificate"). This will add the item to an electronic shopping cart storage in user database 12 and inquire as to the desired quantity. Then the user may access the checkout page or continue shopping.

The e-mail to the recipient's computer by gift exchange computer 4 is a brief congratulatory message with a link to a dynamic e-card page which is part of gift exchange web site 6, and which includes the information entered by the gift giver and described above. From the e-card page, there is a link to gift selection page 300. Alternatively, the recipient can access the gift exchange service web site homepage 200 and enter their epresent certificate number directly in dialog box 224. Regardless of the method used to access the dynamic e-card page, a message (sent by e-mail or other method) is sent by gift exchange computer 4 to the gift giver, indicating that the e-card has been received and accessed.

If the epresent certificate is a multiple quantity order from the same gift giver, then the e-card informs the recipient that they have more than one epresent certificate to redeem.

The recipient previews the gift using web pages 300, 400, and 410 as described above, and logo 311 will be for the appropriate occasion. The gifts available to recipients in certain countries are automatically restricted as a function of the shipping costs restraints and foreign regulations reflected in the shipment data stored in gift database 11. Similarly, gifts which the gift database 11 reflects as being in back-order status will not be displayed on web page 6 by gift exchange manager 5.

When the recipient accesses a gift's full preview page 410, link 413 reads "pick your present" or an equivalent phrase, and link 414 is absent. By selecting link 413, the recipient accesses a page that allows the recipient to confirm the choice and ask for the recipient's mailing information, epresent certificate number (sent to the recipient by, e.g., e-mail, surface mail, or facsimile), and password. The gift exchange computer 4 then sends a confirmation e-mail and sends the gift giver an e-mail notification of which present was chosen. The gift exchange computer 4 notifies supplier 7, by either a computer network connection via network 2 or network 10 and supplier computer 8, or by telephone, facsimile, telegraph, wire transfer, mail, or personal service, to ship the gift from warehouse 9 to the recipient. The recipient confirmation e-mail will include instructions for tracking the shipping of the recipient's selected gift. By entering the certificate number in dialog box 224 on the home page 200, a page opens which includes a dialog box for the appropriate password and, if accepted, displays the same tracking information. This page will also include a list of that recipient's active epresent certificates and an archive of the all epresent certificates received by that recipient.

Until the recipient of an epresent certificate selects their gift, the gift exchange computer 4 may only have access to the name and country of the recipient. Thus, the price to the gift giver may only include an "average" shipping cost based on country, as well as the price categories. Items that are more expensive to ship, as discussed above, may not be available for recipients in certain countries. In addition, or in the alternative, such an item may be automatically included by gift exchange manager 5 in a price category that includes the additional expenses to process the order. Gift database 11 will be sorted by filtering: (a) by product categories (e.g.. Sports); (b) by product sub-categories (e.g., "Baseball," "not in backorder," "not an expensive long-distance shipping item"); and (c) by the total price of the item (i.e., within the upper and lower limits of a mutually exclusive price category) which may be calculated by adding the cost of the item to the profit margin of gift exchange service 3.

FIG. 6 is a flow chart showing a method by which users operating user computer li, I2. . . In conduct an a gift exchange hosted by gift exchange service 3 managed by gift exchange manager 5 drawing from databases 11 and 12, all running on gift exchange computer 4. The gift giver accesses the gift exchange web site (step 601) and then selects from the various options available on home page 200 (step 602). If the gift giver selects one of the product type-price links 222, the gift exchange computer causes gift selection web page 300 to be displayed for that product type. If the gift giver selects one of the occasion-price links 212, the gift exchange computer causes gift selection web page 300 to be displayed for that occasion. From the gift selection web page 300, the gift giver previews gifts using web pages 400 and 410 (step 603), and then selects an epresent certificate (step 604) . Similarly, if the gift giver selects one of the price links 231, the gift giver selects an epresent certificate having that price (step 604). Once an epresent certificate is selected, the gift giver enters the greeting, recipient name, and other information requested by the dialog box in area 505 of order page 500 (step 605). The web site then displays the e-card with all the entered information (step 606) and asks the gift giver if the information is correct (step 607). If the information is not correct, the dialog box on order page 500 reappears, and the gift giver returns to step 605. If the e-card information is correct, the gift giver enters payment (i.e., credit card) information (step 608) for verification and approval (step 609). If the payment method and information is not approved, then the gift giver is notified of the reason that verification failed (step 628) and returned to the payment entry page (step 608). If the payment is approved, the gift exchange computer causes the confirmation web page (step 610), sends a confirmation e-mail to the gift giver (step 611, and stores the epresent certificate data (step 612). On the date selected by the gift giver in step 605 above, the gift exchange manager sends the epresent certificate to the recipient (step 613), and the recipient receives the epresent certificate (step 614). If the recipient accesses the gift exchange web site home page 200 by independently accessing the web site via an Internet log-on (step 616), the recipient is required to enter a epresent certificate number in dialog box 224 on homepage 200 (step 617). After the recipient follows steps 616 and 617, or selects a link in the epresent certificate e-mail (step 615), the gift exchange manager then causes the web site to display a dynamic e-card (step 618) which includes information entered by gift giver in step 605 described above. By accessing preview pages 400 and 410, the recipient previews the gifts available in the mutually exclusive price category as per the recipient's epresent certificate (step 619), selects a gift (step 620), and confirms the selection (step 621). If the recipient has another epresent certificate, the recipient may repeat steps 617-621. Otherwise, the recipient next enters the mailing information, password (L ,, telephone number) and e-present certificate number information (step 623). The gift exchange computer sends a confirmation e-mail to the recipient (step 624) after which a gift selection notification e-mail is sent to the gift giver (step 625) . The confirmation sent in step 624 may be a dynamic confirmation web page. If no recipient e-mail address is supplied, no confirmation email (step 624) is sent. Meanwhile, the supplier 7 is notified by the gift exchange computer 4 with the recipient's gift selection and shipping information (step 626), and the supplier's computer 8 causes the selected gift to be sent from warehouse 9 to the recipient (step 627).

In another embodiment, the invention may include the ability to create an instant offline present wherever a gift giver has access to the Internet and a printer. Gift givers will not only have the option to have their epresent certificates e-mailed, surface mailed, or sent by facsimile, but they will also have the option to print their card from their own printer and deliver the card themselves. Similarly, the printable card containing the epresent certificate may be sent via telephone lines to a facsimile machine designated by the gift giver. The printable card will be created from the data entered by the gift giver on page 500 as described above.

In a further embodiment, the invention may include a link from homepage 200 to a page for sending free e-cards. The link would take users to a page similar to the beginning of the order process described above, starting with an e-card selection (without the order inputs, e^, credit card logo, country, phone number, price, shipping). The next page is the full e-card preview without the "normal" shaded box information (i.e., item cost, shipping cost), which would be replaced with a shaded box that gives the user the option to send it as a free e-card or send an epresent certificate by entering the selected prices, recipient's country, password type, and password. The next page is the "full e-card preview page" as described above, and the epresent certificate process follows the steps described above. By selecting the "send free e-card" link the user accesses a confirmation page and sends an e-mail confirmation. The user can also select links and dialog boxes which allow the e-card to be sent via surface mail or facsimile. On the proper date, the e-card is sent by the selected method to the recipient, and the user will receive an e- ail confirmation that the recipient has received the e-card. In yet another embodiment of the invention, the conversion from e-card order to epresent certificate order, as described immediately above, may be accomplished by providing a link from e-card web sites not affiliated with gift exchange web site 6. Such e-card websites would be hosted by a e-card computer or computers, described above, which may or may not be the same as the gift exchange computer 4. Users of these e-card web sites can add epresent certificates to their free e-cards by entering only four more pieces of information described above (i.e., price, recipient's country, password type, and password) . FIG 7 is a flow chart showing the process by which an e-card web site user purchasers an epresent certificate. First a user accesses to third-party free e-card web site (step 701) and enters the e-card information (e.g., greeting, recipient name, recipient address, and personal comments) as described above (step 702), which information is stored in a database in the e- card computer. On the preview e-card page the user is asked (step 703) if the user wants to send the e-card as a free card (step 704) or convert it to an epresent certificate (step 705) by adding the additional four pieces of information. If the user selects conversion to an epresent certificate, the user is taken to a payment page and the payment particulars as well as e-card information described above (e.g., greeting, recipient name, address and mailing method, and personal comments), are stored in the gift exchange computer's address book in user database 12 for that user as described above (step 706). After payment verification (step 707), the user is thanked for purchasing an epresent certificate (step 708) . If the payment is not verified, the user is notified of the reason that verification failed (step 710) and returned to the payment page (step 706). The affiliate e-card site is given a referral fee (step 709), then the post- verification process (i.e., steps 610-627 described above) for an epresent certificate is performed.

In a still further embodiment of the invention, users of the gift exchange web site may set up a present registry stored in user database 12. In this embodiment, a link similar to link 334 on gift selection web page 300 allows the user recipient to create a "wish lists" of desired products by searching preview pages 410, which would include a link similar to links 413 and 414 which allow the recipient to "tag" a product. However, the prices of the items displayed are not displayed to the recipient. The tagging process design is similar the shopping cart "add to cart" method. At anytime, the recipient can select a link on page 300 to view the progress of the registry and view the tagged items with the quantities of each item. Furthermore, the recipient may change the quantities or delete items from this registry view page.

When the recipient is finished tagging the items, an "End of Wish List" link on page 300 may be selected. On the registry page accessed by this link, the recipient will be requested to give the details of the registry including:

Occasion (e.g., Wedding, Birthday, Shower, New Baby, "For Me Anytime");

User-recipient's name and email; User-recipient's shipping address;

Personal Message dialog box;

Date to arrive;

Date of occasion; and Dialog boxes for all the gift givers' email addresses.

Gift givers accessing the gift exchange web site can view the registry either by selecting the link provided in an e-mail, sent to the gift giver's computer by the gift exchange computer announcing the recipient's registry, or by entering either the gift giver's name or the registry number provided in the announcement e-mail into a registry dialog box provided on the gift exchange web site home page 200. Entry of a registry number into the epresent certificate retrieval dialog box 224 would also give access to the registry.

The registry page has a format similar to gift selection page 300, and includes the name of the person that the registry is for (i.e., the user- recipient), the occasion, and instructions on how to select a gift. The gift price categories are disclosed to the gift giver accessing the registry. The gifts are all listed in the thumbnail format. When the gift giver activates a registered item, it is added to the gift giver's shopping cart. At the checkout (see discussion of page 500 above), the gift giver has the option of having the item shipped to the gift giver for personal delivery or directly to the recipient for the date of the occasion. The recipient shipping address will be pre-fϊlled on the order form from user database 12 along with the list of item(s) chosen by the gift giver and the total cost. Using the information in user database 12, the gift exchange manager also ensures that two people in the registry are not simultaneously buying the same item by only displaying items registered by the user recipient that are not yet purchased. Credit card verification then proceeds as described above, and the user-recipient's registry in user database 12 is updated to include only the gifts not selected by gift givers.

In a still further embodiment, the gift exchange web sites includes the ability for corporate entities to purchase epresent certificates to reward their employees both singularly and in groups. After choosing from a corporate selection of e-cards, the corporate gift giver purchases epresent certificates as described above, except that the password entered are each employee's employee number or other form of identification known to both the employer and employee.

In another embodiment, epresent certificates could be created in physical form and given by the gift giver to the recipient by hand, mail, or other physical delivery. As a security measure, the passwords on such physical certificates may be hidden by, for example, a "scratch-and-win" as used on lottery tickets, in which a frangible layer is printed over the password and removed (by scratching or erasing) by the recipient. The recipient would then log on to the web site with the certificate number and password and proceed to select a gift as described above.

In a further embodiment, all communications between the gift exchange service, the gift giver, the recipient, and the supplier may be made via the Internet, facsimile, wire transfer, telephone, telegraph, surface mail, or personal delivery. In a yet further embodiment, Internet communications among the gift giver, the gift exchange service, the recipient and the supplier may be encrypted using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or other Internet data-encryption protocol. In particular, the data transmissions which are part of steps 605, 608, and 623 described above may be made using an encryption protocol.

In a further embodiment, the recipient may be able, by using a link on home page 200, to divide or combine epresent certificates in order to select gifts in price categories higher or lower than the original epresent certificate price, without disclosing the initial or final price epresent certificate category. It is to be understood that the above-described embodiments are merely illustrative of the principles of the invention and that other arrangements may be devised by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.

Claims

What is claimed is:
1. A method of conducting an on-line gift exchange where at least one gift giver and at least one recipient use computers to access a gift exchange computer, said method comprising: accessing by the gift giver of a web site hosted by the gift exchange computer; selecting, by the gift giver, at least one of a plurality of mutually exclusive gift price categories; sending, by said gift exchange computer, a notification to said recipient that the recipient has received a gift; accessing, by the recipient, of said web site; selecting, by the recipient, a gift displayed on said web site, said gift selected from at least one item within at least one gift price category; and shipping said gift to said recipient.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein said gift price category is not disclosed to said recipient.
3. The method of claim 1 wherein said gift price categories include mutually exclusive product type price categories.
4. The method of claim 1 wherein said gift price categories include mutually exclusive occasion price categories.
5. The method of claim 1 wherein said gift giver's selecting step further includes selecting the method of sending said notification.
6. The method of claim 5 wherein said sending method selection is made from the choices of sending by e-mail, surface mail, facsimile, and delivery to the gift giver's computer for printing thereon.
7. The method of claim 1 wherein said sending of said notification is made on a date selected by the gift giver.
8. A method of conducting an on-line gift exchange where computers of at least one gift giver and at least one recipient are used to access a gift exchange computer, said method comprising: accessing, by the recipient, of a web site hosted by the gift exchange computer; selecting, by the recipient, of at least one gift displayed on said web site, said gift selected by the recipient added to a gift registry database stored on the gift exchange computer; sending a notification to the gift giver announcing the creation of said gift registry; accessing, by the gift giver, of said web site; selecting, by the gift giver, at least one gift from said gift registry; said gift selected from at least one of the gifts selected by the recipient and within a mutually-exclusive gift price category.
9. The method of claim 8 wherein said at least one gift price category is not disclosed to said recipient.
10. The method of claim 8 further including the step of inputting, by said recipient, at least one gift giver's address, said address used as the address for said announcing notification.
11. The method of claim 8 wherein said gift registry is stored in a user database.
12. A gift exchange manager for managing a gift exchange conducted on a network including a gift giver's computer, a recipient's computer, and a gift exchange computer, comprising: a database, including data for a plurality of gifts, said gift data sorted into mutually exclusive price categories; a computer program for running on the gift exchange computer, said computer program including a subroutine for displaying said price categories; a subroutine for accepting first input from said gift giver's computer via the network, said first input selecting at least one of said price categories and identifying a network address for the recipient's computer; a subroutine for sending a gift notification to the recipient's computer via the network; a subroutine for displaying gifts in said price category; a subroutine for accepting second input from the recipient's computer via the network, said second input selecting a gift from said gifts in said price category.
13. The gift exchange manager of claim 12 wherein said subroutine for displaying gifts does not display said price category.
14. The gift exchange manager of claim 12 wherein said price categories include mutually exclusive product type price categories.
15. The gift exchange manager of claim 12 wherein said price categories include mutually exclusive occasion price categories.
16. The gift exchange manager of claim 12 wherein said first input includes a gift notification date, and said gift notification subroutine includes a subroutine for sending said gift notification on said gift notification date.
17. The gift exchange manager of claim 12 wherein said computer program further includes: a subroutine for accepting third input from the recipient's computer for adding said selected gift to a gift registry; a subroutine for sending a notification to the gift giver's computer announcing the creation of said gift registry; and a subroutine for accepting fourth input from the gift giver's computer selecting at least one gift from said gift registry.
18. The gift exchange manager of claim 17 wherein said subroutine for displaying gifts does not display said price category on said recipient's computer.
19. The gift exchange manager of claim 17 wherein said third input includes a list of at least one gift giver's address, said address used as the address for said announcing notification.
20. The gift exchange manager of claim 17 wherein said database includes a user database, and said gift registry is stored in said user database.
21. A gift exchange manager for running on a gift exchange computer for managing a gift exchange between a gift giver and a recipient comprising: a database, including data for a plurality of gifts, said gift data sorted into mutually exclusive price categories; a computer program for running on the gift exchange computer, said computer program including a subroutine for displaying said price categories; a subroutine for accepting first input from the gift giver, said first input selecting at least one of said price categories and identifying a notification address; a subroutine for notifying the recipient using said notification address; a subroutine for displaying gifts in said price category; a subroutine for accepting second input from the recipient, said second input selecting a gift from said gifts in said price category.
22. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said mutually exclusive price categories include mutually exclusive product type price categories.
23. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said mutually exclusive price categories include mutually exclusive occasion price categories.
24. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said first input includes a selection of a notification address selected from the group comprising an e-mail address, a surface mail address, a facsimile telephone number, and a voice telephone number.
25. The gift exchange manager of claim 24 wherein said notification address is the gift giver's address.
26. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said supplier notification is made via a method selected from the group comprising an Internet communication, e-mail, telephone, facsimile, wire transfer, or personal delivery.
27. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said subroutine for displaying gifts does not display said price category.
28. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said first input includes a gift notification date, and said recipient notifying subroutine includes a subroutine for notifying the recipient on said gift notification date.
29. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said computer program further includes: WO 01/16786 PCTVUSOO/23210
a subroutine for accepting third input from the recipient for adding said selected gift to a gift registry; a subroutine for sending a notification to the gift giver announcing the creation of said gift registry; and a subroutine for accepting fourth input from the gift giver selecting at least one gift from said gift registry.
30. The gift exchange manager of claim 29 wherein said third input includes an address of at least one gift giver, said addresses used to send said announcing notification.
31. The gift exchange manager of claim 29 wherein said third input includes a selection, for each gift giver, of an address selected from the group comprising an e-mail address, a surface mail address, and a facsimile telephone number.
32. The gift exchange manager of claim 29 wherein said database includes a user database, and said gift registry is stored in said user database.
33. The gift exchange manager of claim 29 wherein said subroutine for displaying gifts does not display said price category on said recipient's computer.
34. The gift exchange manager of claim 21 wherein said computer program further includes a subroutine for accessing fifth input previously accepted from the gift giver for sending an e-card, said fifth input stored in an e-card database.
35. The gift exchange manager of claim 34 wherein said fifth input includes a greeting, a recipient name, a recipient address, and a message to the recipient.
36. The gift exchange manager of claim 34 wherein said fifth input includes a notification date, and said recipient notifying subroutine includes a subroutine for notifying the recipient on said notification date.
37. The gift exchange manager of claim 34 wherein said fifth input is previously accepted by an e-card computer and stored in said e-card database, said e-card computer including said e-card database.
38. A gift exchange manager for running on a gift exchange computer for managing a gift exchange between a gift giver and a recipient comprising: a database, including data for a plurality of gifts, said gift data sorted into mutually exclusive price categories; a computer program for running on the gift exchange computer, said computer program including a subroutine for displaying said price categories; a subroutine for accepting first input from the gift giver, said first input selecting at least one of said price categories; a subroutine for accepting second input from the gift giver, said second input selecting at least one gift from at least on of said selected price categories. a subroutine for accepting third input from the gift giver identifying a notification address; a subroutine for notifying the recipient using said notification address.
39. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said price categories include mutually exclusive product type price categories.
40. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said price categories include mutually exclusive occasion price categories.
41. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said third input includes a selection of a notification address selected from the group comprising an e-mail address, a surface mail address, a facsimile telephone number, and a voice telephone number.
42. The gift exchange manager of claim 41 wherein said notification address is a gift giver's address.
43. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said third input includes a gift notification date, and said recipient notifying subroutine includes a subroutine for notifying the recipient on said notification date.
44. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said computer program further includes a subroutine for notifying a supplier to ship said selected gift, said supplier notification subroutine including a notification to ship said selected gift to a gift giver's address.
45. The gift exchange manager of claim 38 wherein said computer program further includes a subroutine for accessing fourth input previously accepted from the gift giver for sending an e-card, said fourth input stored in an e-card database.
46. The gift exchange manager of claim 45 wherein said fourth input includes a greeting, a recipient name, a recipient address, and a message to the recipient.
47. The gift exchange manager of claim 45 wherein said fourth input includes a notification date, and said recipient notifying subroutine includes a subroutine for notifying the recipient on said notification date.
48. The gift exchange manager of claim 45 wherein said fourth input is previously accepted by an e-card computer and stored in said e-card data base, said e-card computer including said e-card database.
49. The gift exchange manager of claim 45 wherein said fourth input includes the gift giver's name and a gift giver's address.
PCT/US2000/023210 1999-08-27 2000-08-24 Method of conducting an on-line gift exchange WO2001016786A1 (en)

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