Apple Patent Bridges Online Retailers and Brick and Mortar Stores

Apple was granted a new patent today, involving a store affiliation system, which may not sound interesting at first glance, but it could potentially bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

The patent, 8108261, is a system designed to track online purchases made from a particular store’s wireless network, which can be used to facilitate a partnership between an online store and a traditional business establishment. Currently, a customer can make a purchase at an online store from any WiFi access point, and online stores do not take into account location. So a purchase from Starbucks is the same as a purchase from home, which this patent aims to change.

As an example, Starbucks could encourage you to visit a particular website while sipping your morning latte, and if you did so and made a purchase, Starbucks would receive a kickback. This is beneficial to customers as well, who may receive a gift card or a card for a free app or music download in the process, encouraging them to visit the iTunes Store. Sound familiar? It’s generally similar to what Apple and Starbucks have already got going on, except it allows for Starbucks to gain some benefit whenever someone makes an iTunes purchase while using the in-store WiFi. If you weren’t aware, you can visit a Starbucks each week and receive a free app with the purchase of a Starbucks beverage.

Retailers like Starbucks, who may provide a pay-as-you-go WiFi service (this is popular in hotels) could also potentially provide access to particular websites (such as iTunes) free-of-charge, while still charging for other Internet access. In this example, the retailer would receive some benefit whenever a customer made a purchase on the freely accessible websites. This would be a huge boon for Apple, allowing iPhone/iPad users to access websites that are not freely available to Android or RIM users.

Imagine you’re in a store like Best Buy or Target, looking to buy an Apple product like an iPad, but the store doesn’t have the particular Smart Cover you want, and it’s also not in the online catalog. With a system outlined in this patent, you could access the Internet using in-store WiFi and make the purchase on Apple’s online store. If Best Buy and Target are affiliate partners with Apple, those stores would get a cut of the transaction. Perhaps such an item could even be shipped free of charge, directly to the store, providing a benefit for customers as well.

As you can see, this in-depth patent applies to many different situations, and is beneficial for both traditional retailers and online vendors, providing money for the retailer and additional business and recognition for the online store. It’s valuable for the customer as well, providing incentives for purchases and increasing the availability of in-store WiFi.

About Juli: Contact me via Twitter: @julipuli