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The success of American Idol’s TXT messaging voting has gotten women shoppers thinking of it as a major media guide, or so claims NearByNow Founder Scott Dunlap, who is pushing hard to provide TXT promotions to malls around the U.S. NearbyNow is currently in 50 malls in 45 cities, and expects to be in 110 malls by December. It mostly competes with Slifter, which is more retailer- oriented and claims to service 20,000 stores.

In comments at the Where 2.0 conference May-29-30 in San Jose, Dunlap says that the immediacy of TXT promotions, and the malls’ dense aggregation of stores create a critical mass for the product. With NearbyNow, The Gap can “promote jeans to 400 people who are not even 400 feet away. Who needs GPS?” he asks, rhetorically. And they can do it on the fly, while a newspaper promotion can take several months.

“Retailers have been wondering how Google impacts them,” but it hasn’t been at all tangible, says Dunlap. “This is really a more relevant kind of search. We have taken over a geographic location. It is a nice clean search that is instinctively understood” by both retailers and users.

And the malls, who drum up usage with well-placed signs touting prizes, etc., like the branding. “A lot of people don’t even know that the malls have a URL. But they do,” Dunlap says. Every mall is given a unique code (i.e. “VF” for Valley Fair).

There has been some concern that consumers would think the service crosses the line into spam. But actually, they see it as ”a helpful concierge service,” Dunlap suggests. The key is to limit the promotions to two per hour. “I don’t know why, but three messages seem like spam. He adds that sweepstakes offers are especially powerful. “They can double usage.”

If there is a problem, it is that the service can drive too much traffic. “We’ve learned that you can’t blast it out to 2,000 people searching all at once” for a hot item, like a WII system from Nintendo. But demand, of course, is all based on the context of the store and the prize. Dunlap notes that just “one hour after we had hundreds stampede” for another special, a shoe special got just eight people.”

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