Walmart filed a patent in 2017 outlining a blockchain-based framework offering digital services for retail shoppers. The filing was granted on May 17, 2018 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It proposes a system that will allow a customer to register products after purchase and designate a price for product resales via a new sales platform operated on behalf of the enterprise.
As stated in the patent, customers may interface with the platform in a variety of ways:
“That interface may be conducted, for example, via a point-of-sale interface, a browser-based interface, a mobile device app-based interface, and so forth. By one approach this registration must necessarily occur within a predetermined amount of time from when the customer purchases the item.”
The patent details how the blockchain can capture detailed customer information at point-of-sale:
“By one approach, the registration opportunity comprises a part of a larger overall function/opportunity. For example, the “Savings Catcher” mobile device app-based opportunity provided by Walmart permits a consumer to scan or otherwise enter an optical code on their receipts in order to have their purchases automatically compared against other competitors in order to receive cash back when a lower price from a competitor is found. In this case, with the customer’s permission the customer’s app-associated personal information (such as their identity) can be associated with the specific products that were purchased by the customer and stored in the aforementioned memory 107 as a purchase record that simultaneously serves as the aforementioned registration of this particular consumer’s purchase of a particular item 102.”
According to the document, a new transaction may be broadcasted and verified by the sender, the courier, the buyer, and/or other nodes on the system before being added to the distributed delivery record blockchain. When the package is transferred from the courier to the buyer, the courier may use the courier’s private key to authorize the transfer of the digital asset representing the physical asset from the courier to the buyer, and update the delivery record with the new transaction.
This latest patent is one of a number of blockchain patents filed by Walmart.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has been making strides to compete with behemoth Amazon, spending billions in its online business. It recently announced that online sales increased 33% in the first quarter of 2018 due to more upscale and premium offerings on its website. It has announced partnerships with Lord & Taylor, and brands H Halston, Lucky Brand and Effy to step up its premium appeal and shed its image for rock-bottom prices.
According to ComScore, Walmart’s efforts have triggered a major increase in traffic to its website, which has grown 34% in the past year, which is twice the 17% growth rate for Amazon. Despite the increase, Walmart trails Amazon by a wide margin with an online audience of 101 million compared to the 183 million online shoppers who visited Amazon in April.
The battle between Walmart and Amazon to win over the greatest number of consumers has pushed both companies to explore blockchain as a driver of efficiency and as a way to enhance the customer experience. Blockchain is now entering a phase where possible use cases include the management of customer loyalty points programs, cryptocurrency as a form of payment and transactions being initiated, completed and stored in real time on the blockchain for greater transparency, efficiency and convenience.
Speculation that Amazon will adopt a cryptocurrency such as Dash, Litecoin, Ripple or Bitcoin in order to maintain its leading edge among Millennial shoppers, the key demographic of its subscription service Amazon Prime, continues to prevail. Because Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 when the World Wide Web was just getting started, and given his background as a computer scientist, Amazon will continue to appear as a natural fit for new protocols that further revolutionize and digitize payments, and enhance the desktop and mobile purchasing process.
But there have been no updates as to whether or not Amazon will adopt an existing cryptocurrency, create its own native coin or allow fiat to remain the sole payment option. Walmart, founded in 1962, long before personal laptops and the start of e-commerce, has made no further announcements regarding when or how it may implement the blockchain-based marketplace detailed in the recent patent.
Among the top 100 companies, China’s e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and tech powerhouse Alibaba takes the number one spot for the most blockchain patents.