CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is a continuation in part of published U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/430,824 (Attorney Docket No. BLD920030021US1), entitled “Point-of-Sale Receipt Electronic Generation” to Joan L. Mitchell et al., filed May 6, 2003 and published Nov. 11, 2004, publication No. 2004/0225567 A1; and related to U.S. Pat. No. 6,883,706 B2 (Attorney Docket No. BLD920030020US1), entitled “Point-of-Sale Bill Authentication” to Scott D. Mastie et al., issued Apr. 26, 2005; to published U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/446,204 (Attorney Docket No. BLD920030019US1), entitled “Expense Accounting Data Management Based on Electronic Expense Document” to Joan L. Mitchell et al., filed May 27, 2003 and published Dec. 2, 2004, publication No. 2004/0243489 A1; and to U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/______ (Attorney Docket No. BLD920050045US1), entitled “System And Method of Directly Providing Electronic Receipts” to Scott D. Mastie et al., filed coincident herewith; all assigned to the assignee of the present invention and incorporated herein by reference.
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention generally relates to business transactions and more particularly to returning goods purchased as in-store business transactions and through self service transactions at electronic Point of Sale kiosks and the like.
2. Background Description
Currently, retail stores typically produce a paper receipt reflecting a purchase or purchases by each customer. Normally, a point-of-sale terminal generates the paper receipt, which lists each item purchased. Traditionally, the merchant passes the paper receipt to the customer, which the customer must retain for any allowed returns. Customers frequently discard or misplace paper receipts and, in the case of gifts, may never receive a gift receipt. However, merchants normally require the original paper receipt to return items for refund. Consequently, if a customer fails to produce the receipt, at best, the customer may be allowed to exchange the item for comparable merchandise or merchandise of the same value.
One reason merchants require original receipts is that during the Christmas season, especially, thieves target cars with bags in sight. Without a receipt, a thief cannot return stolen goods. If, however, the receipt is in a bag with merchandise, after breaking into the car and stealing the packages, the thief has the merchandise and the receipt. The thief can make the return and the customer is left with auto damage and the bill. Consequently, retail clerks have begun asking if purchasers want their receipts placed in the bag with their purchases or kept separately. In a further effort to discourage thieves, some merchants insist on only refunding money to the credit card account used originally for purchasing returned items. This can be awkward for gifts, for example, where a newlywed couple/recipient may prefer immediate, unannounced access to the purchase money without notifying the gift-giver of having returned the gift.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Thus, there is a need to allow customers to return goods even without a paper receipt, and more particularly, to allow someone with valid possession of purchased merchandise to make such returns while preventing fraudulent returns and while discouraging theft.
It is therefore a purpose of the invention to eliminate the need for paper receipts;
It is another purpose of this invention to reduce the incidence of fraudulent returns in retail sales;
It is yet another purpose of the invention to eliminate the need for paper receipts, while allowing returns for purchased goods without requiring paper receipts, while reducing the incidence of fraudulent returns in retail sales.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The present invention is related to a method and program product for conducting business transactions, transferring product ownership and handling product returns with paperless receipts. Biometric data and product specific identification information may be included with electronic receipts generated for each purchase. The same information is collected when a product is presented for a return and refund that is based on an electronic receipt. The information collected at the return is compared against the same information in the electronic receipt. As long as the information matches, the return is accepted.
The foregoing and other objects, aspects and advantages will be better understood from the following detailed description of a preferred embodiment of the invention with reference to the drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 shows an example of a preferred point-of-sale (POS) terminal electronic receipt generation/electronic return environment, for transacting business at POS terminals.
DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIGS. 2A-B show an example of generating electronic receipts for use in electronic returns according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention.
Turning now to the drawings, and more particularly, FIG. 1 shows an example of a preferred point-of-sale (POS) terminal electronic receipt generation/electronic return environment 10, customer location (i.e., identified with a client business) 12 and point-of-sale terminal 14 (hereinafter “POS terminal 14”), such as described in published U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/430,824 (Attorney Docket No. BLD920030021US1), entitled “Point-of-Sale Electronic Receipt Generation” to Joan L. Mitchell et al., filed May 6, 2003, published Nov. 11, 2004, publication No. 2004/0225567 A1, assigned to the assignee of the present invention and incorporated herein by reference. Customer locations 12 (e.g., a wallet carried by a customer) include, for example, cash 16, a check 18, a credit card 20 and/or a smart card 22, or any other suitable well known payment mechanism(s) for paying for merchandise, e.g., gift certificates or store credits. Each customer location 12 may also communicate with POS terminal 14 using a personal digital assistant (PDA) 24 or any other suitable handheld computer or communication system, with personal storage and an appropriate communication port (not shown), e.g., infrared (IR) or radio frequency identification (RFID). POS terminal 14 may be a self-service electronic POS kiosk and is equipped to conduct each sales transaction, generates an electronic receipt 26 for each and, optionally, provide a conventional paper receipt 28. According to a preferred embodiment of the present invention, purchasers may return purchases based solely on electronic receipts, even when the original paper receipt has been destroyed, lost or is otherwise no longer available.
As used herein for example only, a customer, shopper or purchaser (used interchangeably) at a customer location 12 may be identified with a private or public concern and is conducting a transaction with a merchant or other business concern. The private concern may be, for example an individual, a business or other organization or business. Thus, a customer/purchaser may be a member of the household, a business employee or a member of a private organization or a government employee. Similarly, although a typical merchant may be located, for example, at a retail place of business, the business concern 30 may be any business or non-profit private or public organization that issues receipts for collected money, e.g., in exchange for purchases. Preferably, the POS terminals 14 are located with the business concern 30, e.g., on the premises of a department or grocery store or, any place of business that normally requires proof of purchase for returns. Further, POS terminal 14 kiosks may include dedicated or self-service kiosks such as, for example, a Wedding Registry kiosk, a Bridal Shower kiosk, a New Baby kiosk, a Bar Mitzvah kiosk, or any other kiosk set up for a special family or person event.
Further, each POS terminal 14 may include an imager 40, a check/currency inserter 42, a camera (e.g., a digital camera, web cam or IR cam) 44, a thumb reader 45, a receipt instruction receiver 46 with a receipt destination retriever 62, an electronic receipt generator (ERG) 48 with an authenticating data generator (ADG) 50, a transmitter 52 and any other components (OC) 54. Imager 40 converts cash (paper currency or bills) 16, and/or checks 18 into images 58 that may be inserted by check/currency inserter 42 into a paper receipt, 28 an electronic receipt 26 or both for recordation. Electronic receipt generation and storage is also described, for example, in published U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/446,204 (Attorney Docket No. BLD920030019US1) entitled “Expense Accounting Data Management Based on Electronic Expense Document” to Joan L. Mitchell et al., filed May 27, 2003, published Dec. 2, 2004, publication No. 2004/0243489 A1, assigned to the assignee of the present invention and incorporated herein by reference.
According to a preferred embodiment of the present invention, personal electronic receipts may be accompanied by purchaser biometric data, e.g., a digital photo, thumbprint, or an IR signature. These personal electronic receipts are delivered to the purchaser coincident with purchases, such as described in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/______ (Attorney Docket No. BLD920050045US1), entitled “System And Method of Directly Providing Electronic Receipts” to Scott D. Mastie et al., filed coincident herewith, assigned to the assignee of the present invention and incorporated herein by reference. Once delivered, the personal electronic receipts may be retrieved from electronic storage, e.g., in PDA/other handheld device, or recalled merely based on accompanying biometric/other data. Since all of this unique information is captured in the electronic receipt, paper receipts are unnecessary for most users. Further, for added security/authentication similar biometric data may accompany any electronic returns that are based solely on electronic receipts. For example, a digital picture or thumbprint may be taken of each person returning merchandise, e.g., by camera 44, or a thumb reader 45.
Receipt instruction receiver (RIR) 46 may include a destination retriever (DR) 62 and receive receipt instructions (RI) 60. Each receipt instruction 60 includes a Receipt Destination Identifier (RDI) 64 and a content instruction (CI) 66. A receipt instruction 60 reflects communicated customer preferences, e.g., provided verbally and manually entered to POS terminal 14 or electronically generated. Electronically generated customer preferences may be gathered, for example, from an electronic payment from, e.g., a credit card 20, a smart card 22, a PDA 24 or any other suitable electronic payment mechanism. Each RDI 64 expressly or implicitly indicates where to send a corresponding electronic receipt. An RDI 64 may expressly state a receipt destination 65 as, for example, an Internet protocol (IP) address, a mailing address, an e-mail address, e.g., for a non-volatile storage. Customer identification may imply a receipt destination 65 stored in a receipt destination database 68, e.g., by business name, by credit card number, by smart card identification, or by PDA based IR communications.
So, with each purchase the destination retriever 62 retrieves implied destinations from receipt destination database 68. The electronic receipt generator 48 generates an electronic receipt 26 and a personal electronic receipt 27 for each transaction, e.g., from date and time; merchant; issuing agent; merchant address and customer specific information. Electronic receipts may be in a standard format, e.g., electronic data interchange (EDI) format or personalized for electronic receipts 26 and personal electronic receipts 27 and based on content instruction 66, e.g., indicated in a content database 70. Authentication data generator 50 can provide transaction authentication data 72 for confirming that an electronic receipt 26 has not been altered. For example, authentication data 72 may include receipt contents, date, time, a merchant identification or, biometric data collected from the purchaser. The authentication data 72 may be stored at a merchant system 74 for access by receipt destination 65 with each receipt 26 or transmitted separately to receipt destination 65. The transmitter 52 communicates electronic receipts 26, personal electronic receipts, and authentication data 72 to receipt destinations 65, the customer location 12 and/or merchant system 74. Electronic returns are based on information included in the personal electronic receipt 27, and made through substantially the reverse process as electronic receipt generation, as set forth in further detail hereinbelow.
The POS terminal 14 may include other components 54, such as for example, a keyboard, a central processing unit (CPU), a monitor, a bar code scanner, a telecommunications system, a credit card authentication system, a smart card authentication system, a PDA communications system, RFID detection modules and/or a cash drawer. The receipt destination 65 may include an expense accounting system 80 such as a customer/employer expense reporting system, a customer personal expense tracking system (e.g., Quicken®, Microsoft Money®, TurboTax® or a spreadsheet application) and/or a customer accountant expense tracking system. Also, the expense account system 80 may include an expense categorizer (EC) 82 categorizing each electronic receipt 26 into an expense category, e.g., clothing, food, or entertainment. A tax data collector (TDC) 84 gathers tax related data in electronic receipts 26, e.g., sales tax, deductible expenses, deductible donations, and medical expenses. A tax authority (TA) 86 (e.g., the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a state tax department, or foreign equivalent thereof) may provide tax related information or, tax related information may be otherwise provided. Also, the receipt destination 65 may include appropriate receipt storage 88 for long term archiving.
FIGS. 2A-B show an example of generating personal electronic receipts for use in electronic returns according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention. In particular FIG. 2A shows the steps 100 in generating personal electronic receipts that begins in step 102 by a customer presenting goods for purchase. As noted hereinabove, biometric data may be collected in step 104 to accompany each personal electronic receipt, including for example, the purchaser's digital photo, thumbprint, or IR signature. Also, in step 106 information is collected on the goods being purchased so that each personal electronic receipt may include itemized serial numbers (S/Ns), if known, listed with each item. So, for example, if the merchandise is tagged with RFIDs or a unique barcode that is scannable with a typical barcode scanner, the scan may include respective S/N for listing on the personal electronic receipt. When, for example, the merchandise is not tagged, such detail may be optional, e.g., included/required only for merchandise above a threshold value. So, in step 108 in this variation, after scanning for a basic purchase, a secondary scan may be required for any item that exceeds the threshold, e.g., items priced above $100 or any other selected financial threshold. In this second scan in step 110 the POS terminal 14 collects the unique S/N of the device or the clerk enters the S/N with the purchase price, to capture the unique S/N for generating the personal electronic receipt in step 112. This personal electronic receipt may aid any future warranty claim and may be required for an electronic return. In step 114 the electronic receipt is passed to the purchaser, e.g., transmitted by IR, Bluetooth or WiFi to the customer's PDA.
Also, since the personal electronic receipt is an itemized list of purchased items, the purchaser may electronically transfer ownership with the right to return to someone else. Moreover, multiple owners may be included in an electronic receipt for future ownership transfers, e.g., for gifts. Thus, such electronic receipts may be used to establish an electronic “chain of title” for nearly any personal property. So with each gift purchase, for example, the electronic receipt may list the original owner as well as the intended recipient(s) down the intended electronic “chain of title” to allow returning the gifts at any point before they are given. An errand-running agency may simply and conveniently convey personal electronic receipts to their principals with transfer of the purchased goods. Once these personal electronic receipts are conveyed to the purchaser/owner in step 114, the purchaser/owner may return the goods based solely on the personal electronic receipt. Also, the recipients, e.g., a wedding couple as well as a relative who was likely to run errands, may be listed with the purchaser. A grandparent's gift to a grandchild through the child's parents, for example, may be replaced or refunded at the gift destination, i.e., by the parents and/or child, without requiring either to travel back to the grandparent's location for the refund/exchange. In all such cases, the invention allows the final recipient of a gift to be authorized to handle the exchange or cash-equivalent of a gift, while precluding any intermediate parties (intended or unintended) from laying claim to the gift.
FIG. 2B shows an example of the steps 120 of making an electronic return according to a preferred embodiment of the present invention. Upon presenting the goods for return in step 122, the purchaser may retrieve the corresponding personal electronic receipt in step 124, e.g., from the PDA/other handheld device, either in addition to a paper receipt, or replacing the paper receipt entirely with an electronic receipt. Then, the purchaser passes the electronic receipt to the merchant, e.g., by uploading the personal electronic receipt substantially the same as it was downloaded. Alternately, if an RFID tag or barcode label is still attached to goods being returned, the merchant may recall the personal electronic receipt based on the tag/label and accompanying biometric/other data. Preferably, in step 126 the merchant collects biometric data to accompany the electronic return for added security/authentication. So, for example, the merchant may take a digital picture of each person returning merchandise. The merchant also gathers identifying data from the goods being returned. In step 128 the merchant compares the gathered data with the personal electronic receipt and, if there is a match, in step 130 the merchant completes the return. Otherwise, if the gathered data does not match the personal electronic receipt, then in step 132 the merchant can decide whether to just refuse the return in step 134 or, take other appropriate action, e.g., by notifying the authorities and providing a digital image of a suspected party.
Advantageously, personal electronic receipts and electronic returns are convenient for both the merchant and the customer. Electronic returns facilitate fraud detection, making it relatively easy to identify suspicious activity, e.g., where the original purchaser has reported a theft. Fraud may be detected, for example, by identifying someone that is making an extraordinary number of returns, but to several different sales clerks over a relatively short period of time. This type of activity might not normally arouse suspicion, even though all of the return activity, taken as a whole, appears otherwise. Also, items may be returned where the collected original biometric data does not match that for the return, for example, and no transfer of ownership has been recorded. Discovering the discrepancy warns the merchant to take action, e.g., question the returner or notify the proper authorities. Also, often enough, customers may mistakenly return the wrong item to the wrong store, e.g., due to a memory lapse or confusion. By comparing the serial number of items being returned to items that were sold and listed in the personal electronic receipt, the merchant can identify such errors. The merchant can also utilize the information in the electronic receipt to augment the refund/exchange process, in the case when a paper receipt is presented.
Thus, merchants may allow (line-item) returns of merchandise based on a personal electronic receipt or biometric data rather than insisting on a paper receipt. Returns may be made based, for example, solely on the returner's thumbprint. Merchants can verify that the returns are for legitimately purchased goods, using long term image storage and associated coded data for superior customer service while reducing/preventing the incidence of fraudulent returns, and the labor and paperwork required to manage exchange/returns via paper receipts. This reduces lost income to the merchant from fraudulent returns. Since the individuals involved in each purchase (i.e., the purchaser and the merchant) are aware of specifics for every purchase, confused returns and falsely contested purchases occur much less frequently. With or without a paper receipt the merchant's return desk can handle returns efficiently just by having access to the purchase record database. An item's barcode number, for example, accompanied by the returner's drivers license, biometric data, or another suitable customer verification check, may provide sufficient confirmation that the returner was the purchaser or that the purchase was made on the returner's behalf or prior to a valid transfer of ownership.
While the invention has been described in terms of preferred embodiments, those skilled in the art will recognize that the invention can be practiced with modification within the spirit and scope of the appended claims. It is intended that all such variations and modifications fall within the scope of the appended claims. Examples and drawings are, accordingly, to be regarded as illustrative rather than restrictive.