New website hopes to improve shopping

May 1, 2008 8:52:13 AM PDT
A Silicon Valley startup wants you to let someone else do your shopping. The idea is taking off so fast, the company has secured a second round of funding and expects to be profitable in two years. In fact, the company's founder predicts shopping as we know it may one day be a thing of the past.

It all started when Scott Dunlaps' wife was dragging him around the mall as she looked for a pair of boots.

"I realized it would be so much easier if I could pull out my mobile phone, find all the stores that sell those boots and direct her," said Scott Dunlap, Nearby Now CEO.

And so Nearby Now was born, a website you can ask to find those boots for you. The site has contracts with 200 malls across the country; it will search the one closest to you and look for the item. You'll get to see pictures and choose the one you like best. Then someone from a call center in the Midwest will call the store for you and have the clerk put it under you name.

"You can do that either before you go to mall by using your computer at home or at the mall on your mobile phone," said Dunlap.

Some malls will also eventually have kiosks you can use to search the website. It's free for you, the company makes its money when you put an item on hold, the store then pays Nearby Now. Busy shoppers say this sounds like exactly what they need.

"Now most of the stuff I do is online, but it's looking at several different websites and several different screens to find just what you want and when find it, it doesn't have your size or color you want. So yeah to have that would save time even spending time online," said Michelle Anderson, shopper.

We decided to try the service ourselves. We searched for black walking shoes, picked out the pair we liked and waited at the Westfield Shopping Center in San Francisco. Fifteen minutes later, a text message came in on the cell phone saying the shoes weren't available, but it gave a website where we could order them from. When we went to the walking store Brad confirmed he didn't have the shoes but he did have the flip flops the PR representative had requested for us as part of the test. So Nearby Now worked, but some shoppers say despite the convenience, they still think shopping will always be a time consuming event.

"You're going to walk around for awhile before you go to the store. You would be like 'I already know it's there, let's see what else the mall has,'" said Antwon Rollins, shopper.

But Dunlap thinks shopping, even the relatively new concept of online shopping, is forever going to change.

"Getting something shipped to you in 24-hours is no longer fast enough. Really I think our value proposition is if you want it right now, if youwant to pick it up in next 20 or 30 minutes," said Dunlap.

Just further evidence that generation Y will live up to its reputation as a generation that wants instant gratification.


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