The New York Times has a good story up on companies helping people find what they’re looking for at local stores or malls via mobile phone. One company, NearbyNow, puts up posters in malls getting people to text in to receive a list of current sales and let them search for a specific item — the more specific the details the more specific the results. On the first day of its first trial more than 2,000 people tried the service. They also tried promotions where the people who had conducted searches were sent offers to win movie tickets or $25 gift vouchers if they were among the next 10 people to buy items from a store… “It was a little scary,” Mr. Dunlap said. “We watched about 100 people answer their phones and walk straight for the store. Depending on the offer, you could start a stampede.” NearbyNow gets a dollar from retailers or manufacturers everytime someone views the advertisers page, and the average sale resulting from that is $25. There are other services, including Slifter (which is local rather than mall specific) and Krillion (which focuses on large appliances).
However, it looks like this form of mobile commerce could run into the same problem e-commerce ran into — the stores don’t have a good handle on their inventory so there is the danger of telling customers something is available when it’s not. NearbyNow deals with this by getting employees to call the store and items for its customers (which doesn’t sound like it would scale very well) while Krillion uses a click-to-call button to connect customers to the stores directly.
There’s a great quote from Mr. Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence: “The Internet, which was going to enable any business to sell to anyone in the world…ultimately may be used mostly to do the opposite — provide consumers with information on where to buy locally.”