June 29, 2001, 12:00 AM

Using wireless web access to get people in motion into a store

Shoppers are using wireless devices to scan in-store inventory of retailers before starting their shopping trips.

Retailers want traffic; Switchboard Inc. aims to deliver it. Switchboard of Westboro, Mass., which provides directory technology to search engine web sites and online yellow pages, teamed up in June with AT&T Wireless to deliver product information from local stores through wireless devices. It figures consumers out shopping with cell phone in hand will access the web to do a product search, then buy what they’re looking for at nearby stores.


Switchboard’s Nearbuy Merchandising solution charges stores $49 a month to list their inventories in the database. Switchboard handles integration of inventory, from coding electronic files to retyping faxed inventory pages.


Merchants who use the traditional web-based system say it has brought in new customers. “We are really interested in the wireless application because of the concept of getting people in motion who are ready to shop in our store,” says Simon Shapiro, president of Tags Hardware and Home Inc., which operates a 25,000-square-foot Ace Hardware and home center store in Cambridge, Mass. Tags already sees an increasing number of customers looking for items they found through Nearbuy Merchandising, Shapiro says.


The idea for bringing this service online and to wireless came from consumers’ misunderstanding of how Switchboard’s yellow pages searches work. “Consumers type product names rather than store names in the yellow pages,” says Luke O’Brien, Switchboard’s vice president of marketing and merchandising services. He says consumers comfortably use cellular phone keypads to type in products. “Someone actually typed out ‘Arid xxtra dry with the gold top,’” he says. Surveys show that 89% of those who search for something would buy the product in a local store immediately after finding it on the web, he says.


Nearbuy Merchandising will be part of AT&T’s Digital PocketNet service and will be called Product Locator. This is Switchboard’s first cellular deal; it plans to sign others this year. Nearbuy Merchandising already is available on Switchboard’s own web site, CBS Switch-board.com, as well as 15 others. The company sees 5 million product searches a month. It is hoping for more than 20 sites by the end of the year and 10 million searches. Switchboard is owned by directory-based solutions provider ePresence Inc. and entertainment giant Viacom Inc.

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