Sunday, 27 July 2014

ABSTRACT

A selling method and system that allows individuals or groups to interactively select associate products and services with their online presence in exchange for the online service, as part of an online service, or for some reward, monetary or otherwise. Individuals or groups select products and services from a pool of partner e-commerce retailers or import them from their purchasing histories based on personal preference and may use them as a means of expression for their online audience as part of an online service. This provides e-commerce retailers with self-selected targeted marketing and referral selling to affinity groups, the online version of word of mouth selling. E-commerce retailers share revenue and pay for referrals that occur via this word of mouth selling framework. Online services that have any form of user identity within the context of a larger audience may utilize this form of user based referral selling as a revenue generating DESCRIPTION
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
Priority is claimed to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/521,411, filed Apr. 21, 2004, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference. This application is a continuation-in-part of the following applications: U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/997,121, filed Nov. 24, 2004, which has priority to Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/525,905, filed Nov. 26, 2003, U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/044,544, filed Jan. 26, 2005, which has priority to Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/481,955, filed Jan. 26, 2004, and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/045,164, filed Jan. 27, 2005, which has priority to Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/481,957, filed Jan. 27, 2004, the contents of all of which are incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION 

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to a system and method of facilitating word of mouth selling via a communications network that enables consumers or groups to identify products and services that they have purchased or desire to purchase and include these products and services in an online profile that becomes visible to viewers.

2. Description of the Related Art

Internet selling has traditionally been done by online retailers selling products directly to purchasing individuals or groups. Amazon.com® is an example of an e-commerce website that specializes in selling a variety of products. U.S. Pat. No. 5,960,411 relates to a method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network. Other e-commerce sites specialize in selling a particular type of product or service, such as the Apple® store or Dell.com® which both sell different varieties of computers and computer products. More recently, businesses have emerged that offer customers comparison shopping, enabling the customer to browse a variety of e-commerce sites for the best price or customer service when they are looking to purchase. MySimon.com® is an example of this. Google®'s Froogle® service is an example of a search engine that aggregates products from a variety of e-commerce sites and offers them in a single view to the potential customer.

These approaches are very different in their respective business models. In the first case, the online service provides the listing and handles the transaction. In the second case, the online service merely provides information, and may receive referral fees from the e-commerce site that completes the transaction. However, both of these approaches aim to achieve the same goal: to provide a potential buyer with a purchasing path that begins with the buyer's interest in a product or service. Along this purchasing path, the user may encounter product reviews or user feedback, which is, at best, the opinion of a stranger and, at worst, the contrived words of a biased party.

Also, an increasingly popular feature on online communities is the ability for a user to express his/herself using a variety of creative tools. For example, websites exist that allow users to create a virtual character, complete with clothes, accessories, and furniture. These sites are known collectively as avatar sites. A preferred embodiment of this invention would treat a user's previously purchased products and services and desired products and services as a means of self expression, and the web as just another place where we can express our individuality and conduct day-to-day social interaction.

One example of a known system is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,175,831, which relates to a networking database containing a plurality of records for different individuals in which individuals are connected to one another in the database by defined relationships. This system, however, does not enable the individuals to provide word of mouth sales referrals by including marketing brands as part of the individual's identity in the database.

Another example of a known system is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369. U.S. Pat. No. 6,269,369, which relates to a network-computer-based personal contact manager system that enables users of networked clients to maintain and update user information that is stored in a relational database. The system allows each user to specify, on an individual basis, which contacts are permitted to access their user information. The system also allows users to find contacts based on common group affiliations and notifies users when there are coincidences in their data.

Additional descriptions of the background of the present invention may be found in the following books: “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books (2002); and “Kellogg on Marketing” (Edited by Dawn lacobucci), John Wiley & Sons (2000). Another reference related to the use of advertisements online and related pricing issues is described, for example, in connection with “GOOGLE®” AdWords.

One disadvantage of known systems is that a system of providing word of mouth types of sales referrals is not provided in which brands are marketed as part of the individual's identity.

One disadvantage of known systems is that they do not provide an automated mechanism where consumers or groups can represent themselves to their personal network via the products and services they own or want within a purchasing environment. Traditional e-commerce also suffers from the lack of relevant feedback from trusted sources.

Accordingly, there is a need for a system of word of mouth selling system that identifies brands with online identities and optionally tracks access and sales histories to provide rewards.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

The present invention alleviates to a great extent the disadvantages of known advertising and content evaluation systems by providing an automated mechanism where brand owners can tap into a network of individuals or groups who are willing to represent their brands via their identities as part of a community.

The present invention optionally includes a system whereby e-commerce retailers can benefit from the word of mouth sales referrals of a willing and enthusiastic base of individual or group fans who have identified themselves as willing product or service advocates. It should be understood that the phrase “word of mouth” as used herein encompasses online communication where there is not necessarily an oral component such as uttered via talking, although optionally oral communication such as oral commands and input may be provided.

The present invention also optionally includes a method and system for aggregating and importing user purchasing history from multiple retailers within a word of mouth selling framework.

The present invention also optionally includes a method and system for providing incentives for users to purchase from their peers as well as for peers to import their purchasing histories and add their product and service desires to an online profile.

The present invention also optionally includes a method and system for syndicating word of mouth selling features and retailer networks to partner online communities as a way for them to increase their revenue.

According to one embodiment of the present invention, a method and system is provided that enables online word of mouth e-commerce whereby individuals or groups expressly decide the products and services that they wish to be associated with as part of their identity within an online community. They select and approve these products and services from their purchasing histories at various e-commerce retailers and can enrich this information with the products and services that they wish to purchase. Optionally, in return for adding their purchasing history to their profiles, individuals and groups receive rewards in the form of gift certificates when other users purchase the product or service that the individual or group advocated. Partner e-commerce retailers are asked to implement or expose a web service API that conforms to the specifications required for a user importing his or her purchasing history and for dynamically extracting referral links. Partners are also asked to expose a step in their e-commerce check out process that allows a user to add their purchase directly to their word of mouth selling profile. Partner retailers are also required to keep track of referral conversion rates and the dollar value of all referred sales. Alternatively, third party tools can be used to track conversion rates, etc.

In one embodiment, the system and method of the present invention provides a framework for achieving word of mouth selling on the Internet such that when a user views a product or service, he or she may associate it with the individual or group who has elected to include it as part of their online presence, even though that user may receive no direct monetary benefit for doing so. By providing individuals with products and services that allow them to express themselves in the context of a larger community, as well as the choice not to select products or services if they believe that none allow them to properly express themselves, a strong framework for word of mouth selling on the web can be created. This framework allows businesses to penetrate social groups where individuals have a higher probability of common interests. In one example, if ADIDAS® footwear is incorporated into a user's online presence, and a friend notices this, it can have more value than if he or she saw the ADIDAS® footwear advertised on CNN® or even on an ADIDAS® e-commerce site.

Users may browse profiles to obtain word of mouth referrals of products or services. Additionally, users may select to purchase the products or services identified in the profiles. If a user selects to purchase a product or service identified in a profile, the user whose profile identifies the product or service may receive a reward. The reward may be a commission from the sale, a discount for a future purchase or any other type of monetary or non-monetary reward. A service provider may have an agreement with individuals or groups of individuals that advocate products and services in exchange for a service, as part of an online service, or for some reward, monetary or otherwise. The service provider may also have an agreement with e-commerce retailers to share revenue with the service provider for this type of referral based selling. This touches on the field of online communities and social networking, as these are the areas where such a selling campaign would be most successful because of the value of the association of a product or service with the advocating individual or group combined with the credibility an individual or group is likely to receive as a member of such a community.


CLAIMS

1. A computer-implemented method of selling comprising:
operating through a computer network an online community having members that include one or more agents each having a self-determined identity; having the one or more agents include self-determined content information as part of their self-determined identities, the self-determined identities being stored in a database system; having the one or more agents endorse product or service information in their identities in exchange for the possibility of a reward, the agent being rewarded upon the purchase of the product or service endorsed by another member of the online community;
determining by one or more computers a degree of closeness of a relationship between the agent being rewarded and the other member of the online community, and determining a reward value based upon the determined degree of closeness; maintaining the database connected to the computer network and having a storage memory, the database associating the self-determined content information and product or service information with the respective one or more agents, the database containing searchable data relating to products or services; displaying via a display viewable by the member a viewable representation of the product or service information data by: receiving a view request from the computer network to view a selected agent's self-determined content information;
assembling data corresponding to said selected agent's content information, including in said content information associated product or service information, including product or service display data;
sending a product/service request via the computer network for the associated product or service information data, including contacting external retail services to get up-to-date retailer information about the product or service, the request sent from a content service provider to a word of mouth selling service provider; selecting via a selection device the products or services requested by the product/service request and merging the products or services with the content information; sending a product or service selection signal including data from the computer network indicating that the member of the online community who sent the view request wants to purchase one or more of the products or services; and directing the member of the online community to one of said associated selling service providers to purchase the one or more products or services indicated by the product or service selection signal.
2. The method of claim 1 further comprising receiving said request for a second of said agents' associated information via the computer network prior to providing said content information via the computer network.
3. The method of claim 1 wherein said online community includes a plurality of associated selling service providers, and said content information includes information concerning products or services available for purchase via the computer network from the one or more associated selling service providers.
4. The method of claim 1 further comprising invoking a reward mechanism via the computer network.
5. The method of claim 4 wherein said invoking a reward mechanism via the computer network includes associating a reward with said one or more agents whose self-determined identities are viewable via the computer network.
6. The method of claim 4 wherein said invoking a reward mechanism via the computer network includes associating a reward with one or more viewers participating in the online community via the computer network.
7. The method of claim 1 wherein the reward is selected from one or more of the items in the following group: money, a discount, a gift certificate, a reward point program.
8. The method of claim 1, further comprising modifying said self-determined content information in said database in accordance with instruction operations by said respective one or more agents.
 services are modified to interface with the WMSSP 1.4.

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