Green Manolo » Returns Before Shipping: Green or Gauche?

Returns Before Shipping: Green or Gauche?

By Christa

Have you heard of Aunt Mildred? No, she’s not that one distant relative of yours who always gives the worst gifts, but that’s who Amazon had in mind when they came up with the Aunt Mildred program. According to the Washington Post:

The online retailer has quietly patented a way for people to return gifts before they receive them, and the patent documents even mention poor Aunt Mildred. Amazon’s innovation, not ready for this Christmas season, includes an option to “Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred,” the patent says. “For example, the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.” In other words, the consumer could keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships.

So what makes Amazon’s Aunt Mildred program green? In addition to being an economic headache and a logistical nightmare, the whole business of returning and exchanging a gift bought online isn’t exactly eco-friendly since there’s a whole lot of shipping involved. If a gift recipient can exchange a gift before ever receiving it, that’s two fewer trips that any one product has to make. Less shipping means less emissions and that means cleaner air.

Huh. I’m thinking that this might be one of those times where manners should trump making the Earth a better place, if only because Amazon’s Aunt Mildred program kind of takes the fun out of receiving gifts and seems like yet one more way that not-so-great gift givers can get out of having to find something their recipients will actually like. I know that gifts are returned and exchanged to the tune of 30% around the holiday season – which adds up to a lot of time in transit for stuff and for people – but when green gets gauche, is it really worth it? Would you use Aunt Mildred?

3 Responses to “Returns Before Shipping: Green or Gauche?”

  1. The gold digger Says:

    I would absolutely use it! I just had to go through the hassle of returning the gift my husband’s parents sent and I couldn’t find the packing slip, so it was a pain in the neck, plus then I had to take it to UPS, etc, etc, etc.

    His parents have awful taste. We have tried to de-escalate the gift giving, but to no avail. I would be perfectly happy if they never sent anything again. I have yet to understand why they thought we would want cheap Chinese pressed wood tables with hummingbirds painted on them. Or a cast-iron cat. Or a framed photo of themselves (well, I sure didn’t want that one and my husband still has it in a drawer, so maybe he wasn’t very excited, either). Or used placemats.

    The only problem is they don’t buy from the same vendor every year, so this program would not work for me unless there would be a national Aunt Mildred registry.

  2. aurumgirl Says:

    I wouldn’t use it. I’m one of those people who loves every gift I get–because if I can’t absolutely adore it and put it to good use, I know I can hang on to it and it will become something not only ideal for someone else, but necessary; then I can give it to that person and they’ll be happy to have it. There is no need to bring some corporation into the exchange.

  3. Christa Says:

    @The gold digger Sounds a lot like certain members of my family – I’ll never understand how they decide on what they give us. From used stuff – not gorgeous used stuff but used-used – to the absolutely weird, it’s always interesting to see what’s next!

    @aurumgirl I agree with you on that point, though I don’t hold on to things. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t feel bad about immediately putting a gift into the Goodwill pile (I used to keep everything for a year or so so I wouldn’t feel guilty). Someone, somewhere probably wants exactly what it is I’ve been given.

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