Shop911 Helps Buyers in a Pinch

SAN FRANCISCO (08/02/2000) - The Web site's name itself implies emergency:

Shop911.

"We were trying to have a little bit of levity with the concept--helping people deal with crises that come up," says James Reed, vice president of marketing and strategic alliances for Shop911 Inc.

What kind of crises? Well, shopping crises, of course. Whether it's a housewarming gift you need in a hurry, an anniversary present you forgot to buy, or an elusive item on your daughter's birthday list, Shop911 is now there to assist. Formerly Malltrip.com, Shop911.net made its debut last week.

"Shop911 extends beyond the mall concept" to stores outside of malls, Reed says. "'Mall' has a different connotation for everybody. Some good, some bad."

Unlike the majority of Web sites that are devoted to shopping, you can't actually buy anything at Shop911. It's more of a referral agency, and a free one at that. Its targets are the many consumers who do their product research online but make their purchases offline, in brick-and-mortar stores. And according to forecasts from Internet commerce analysts at Jupiter Communications, by the year 2005 consumers will spend US$632 billion offline based on research they conduct online, compared to the $199 billion they will actually spend on the Internet.

"The numbers are growing," Reed says. "No matter how strong e-commerce becomes, we think people are not going to buy soft goods on line at a high rate."

So, on Shop911, you will find listings for women's, men's, and children's apparel, jewelry, cosmetics, and perfume--items consumers like to touch and examine before they buy--but not electronics. "We stay away from hard goods," Reed says.

Regional Service Varies

Here's how Shop911 operates: You plug in your zip code or choose a geographic area, and type in the product name, brand, and price of the item you want.

Shop911 then searches the stores in its listings, locates the businesses closest to you that have the item, and displays thumbnail photos of the item.

"Ultimately, we want consumers to have a comparative choice," Reed says.

Click on the thumbnail and more detailed information is provided, including the store address and a map that shows you how to get there. Shop911 can also be accessed through wireless devices, such as wireless application protocol phones and Palms, after you download a small query application. The WAP interface is more static, allowing you to search only by product or brand, and it's text only--no thumbnails.

How much assistance Shop911 will be able to provide during a real-life shopping emergency may depend on where you live. Shop911 has a total of about 50 stores in its listings, most of them regional and national chains, such as Bloomingdales, Brooks Brothers, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and Tiffany. But in the Boston/New England region where I live, only about half as many are listed. And at the two major shopping centers closest to my house in western Massachusetts, only six stores had any listings at all on Shop911: Ann Taylor, Pacific Sunwear, Piercing Pagoda, Kay Jewelers, Target, and Zales Jewelers. I couldn't find a single listing for the simple, cheap Casio watch I was looking for.

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