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Doug Krizner: We've all had the experience of shopping for a special item and going from store to store to find it — something you've got to have, but doesn't seem to be in stock anywhere. Sure the Internet has helped in the search. But there's another technology that can you save time, and it uses your cell phone. Here's Ambar Espinoza:
Ambar Espinoza: Los Angeles native Patrick Keilty is on a tight schedule. He's looking for a copy of the Hitchcock film Vertigo, and he only has one hour to shop. That's not easy in L.A. traffic.
Patrick Keilty: I'm hoping one place will have it, but I don't know which one and I don't really feel like going to all of them — especially because the Barnes & Noble is actually a couple of miles away.
As he's driving, Keilty sends a text message to SLIFT. That's short for Slifter.
Keilty: 3-8-SLIFT. We're gonna try and look for "Vertigo."
Services like Slifter and NearbyNow help people track down what they're looking for. Users type a product name and a zip code into their cell phone. They get a text message back with the address of the closest store that has the item in stock.
The service is free for users, and stores pay a fee every time they come up in a query. John Gauntt is a mobile marketing expert with eMarketer. He says these services are a cheap and effective way for businesses to snag customers.
John Gauntt: Once you walk through the door, not only do you typically transact for what you had in your mind beforehand, but you'll also buy something else.
Which, of course, makes retailers very happy. So does the fact that they get instant data on what customers want.
Alex Muller is the head of GPShopper, the company that created Slifter. He says there's another bonus for stores.
Alex Muller: We're giving them geographic data as well, saying 'look, everybody in New York is searching for XYZ,' while people in Kansas City are searching for something slightly different.
Muller says customers can access about 30,000 retail locations nationwide through GPShopper.
But not everyone is sold on the service. Patrick Keilty has just gotten a text message from Slifter telling him to go to a website to find Vertigo.
Keilty: Which doesn't really help me, since I'm sitting in my car. I don't have time to go back home and search on the Internet. I mean that, doesn't that sort of undercut the service they're trying to provide?
In spite of the kinks, text message marketing is also taking off in sectors like entertainment, health care and banking. By the end of this year, the industry is expected to be worth more than a billion dollars.
In Los Angeles, I'm Ambar Espinoza for Marketplace.