The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently published eBay patent application 20130144763, “Assisted Shipping System.” This is a patent for eBay sellers that are, frankly, just too lazy to be sellers. If Homer Simpson was in need of a shipping logistics system to press the “any key,” the “Assisted Shipping System” would be the way to do it.
In the background of the patent, eBay describes the problem sellers have in shipping their product including determining what type of shipping box to use:
“…the seller is faced with a variety of tasks when preparing to ship the item. The seller must first determine the appropriate box size. Once the item has been packaged, the seller must choose among the different shipping choices available to the seller. The seller then needs to obtain the appropriate shipping label and fill it out with shipping information from the buyer. When the seller finally ships the package, the seller further needs to provide a tracking number to the buyer by copying the tracking number and emailing it to the buyer. This shipping process therefore impedes on the seller’s efficiency to ship items and can cause much frustration and wasted time…”
In the Patent Abstract, eBay describes how the patent application would solve this problem:
“(The) Physical specifications of the item to be listed in an online marketplace are determined. Specifications of a shipping material for the item are determined based on the physical specifications of the item. A recommended shipping means is generated based on the specifications of the shipping material and the physical specifications of the item. Historical shipping information for shipped items previously listed on the online marketplace are stored. The physical specifications of the item, the specifications of the shipping material for the item, or the recommended shipping means may be determined based on the historical shipping information…”
“Physical specifications may include, for example, physical dimensions (e.g., height, width, length, and weight). The shipping material provisioning engine determines specifications of a shipping material for the item based on the physical specifications of the item. In other words, a size of a shipping box may be selected such that it will fit the item and not be too large so as to waste shipping space…”
eBay is not alone in its quest to “stupid proof” – err, streamline the shipping process. Wired Magazine recently described Sold’s “one click selling” business in, “Why 3 MIT Grads Want to Send You an Empty Box.” Sold chooses on behalf of the seller which marketplace (including but not limited to eBay and Amazon) to sell on. Sold actually sends the seller a pre-labeled box to ship their product in.
Controlling shipping logistics is also way for companies like eBay to control their image. By streamlining the process they will avoid being scoffed at in Internet memes such as, “Amazon Packs Your Snacks Extra Safely In A Box Ten Times Too Big” (Consumerist) and the ironic, “Bought some bubble wrap on Amazon. This is how they shipped it” (Reddit). It’s also fair to say that being efficient has a positive environmental impact.