Whether it be a difference in personal tastes or a case of doubling up of gifts, in the days since Christmas countless numbers of people have been braving the queues at refund counters in stores around the world looking to exchange unwanted gifts. Online retailer Amazon is looking to make such hassles a thing of the past by patenting a system that would allow users to exchange unwanted gifts purchased online before they’ve even been dispatched.

The “System and method for converting gifts” would allow users to set up rules within their profile to indicate which gifts they would like exchanged for a gift voucher or another product more to the user’s tastes. Example rules that would trigger an exchange listed in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent application include, converting all gifts from a particular person, (Amazon lists the hypothetical “Aunt Mildred”), converting all VHS gifts to DVDs, converting all gifts during a particular time period – around a birthday for example – or checking the size of clothing items before they are dispatched.

And for those concerned about offending the gift-giver, the system won’t notify them that you’ve exchanged their gift unless you want it to. In fact, users can even opt to send the giver a thank you note for the gift they originally chose.

As the system allows gifts to be exchanged before they are sent, it would obviously save Amazon a lot of the man-hours and money currently spent dealing with gift exchanges. Couriers and postal companies look like being the only real losers with such a system, as the gift recipient is currently responsible for the cost of sending the unwanted gift back to the online retailer.

Amazon hasn’t yet revealed if or when we can expect to see such a system implemented, but the days of tasteless ties and hideous sweaters for Christmas and birthdays could be numbered.