Maps to the Star Brands

You're on your way to a sales presentation and you need a caffeine jolt. But you don't want a cup of plain ol' generic coffee-your taste buds are screaming for some Costa Rican Bella Vista. No problem-pull out your Palm Inc. Pilot (while avoiding steering into oncoming traffic), punch in a few keystrokes and, voila, up pops the location of the nearest Starbucks, along with driving directions.

Vicinity Corp. wants to use this kind of technology to help businesses turn online traffic into store traffic. Using a highly accurate longitude-latitude search engine, its BrandFinder service helps people find physical locations-stores, hotels, FedEx drop boxes and ATMs, to name a few-using the Web via a PC or wireless device, or over the phone. Users select from a number of categories-for example, food or banking-and Vicinity provides them with a list of top brands. They can find the closest location of a particular brand by entering their zip code or street address. The company's MapBlast application gives customers turn-by-turn directions as well as a map.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company also offers data mining to help clients determine the effectiveness of their marketing programs. "It all comes down to ROI," says Eric Winkler, Vicinity's vice president of marketing. "If companies are spending money on online marketing, they want to know how many customers they're getting in return." Clients include Reebok International Ltd., Gap Inc., McDonald's Corp. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (where finding store locations is a popular activity these days).

According to Vicinity, Forrester Research Inc. has noted that by 2004, the $184 billion in projected online sales will still make up only 7 percent of total retail spending that year. In other words, people still like shopping in physical stores. The Web can help them get there.

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