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Local shopping engine NearbyNow announced today that it will provide a mobile platform for mall shoppers to find products using mobile devices.

NearbyNow works with shopping malls to get their product and inventory information online in a searchable fashion. It has been growing rapidly and last month announced partnerships that will bring it to 20 additional cities. CEO Scott Dunlap sat on an engaging local shopping panel at ILM:06, and we’ve written about the company here, here and here.

Today’s announcement involves a mobile search platform that allows any mobile device user to send product queries via text to a mall’s designated NearbyNow short code. Info will be returned about product availability within that mall. This takes the mall directory to another level and could be a powerful way for mall retailers to increase foot traffic. Promotions, coupons and complementary product info will likely be included  and monetized  in this or future versions of the product, and I hope to talk to the company soon to find out more.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, the real opportunity for NearbyNow exists with mobile search. Mobile local search is a growing area in general, where there is a great deal of experimentation and potential growth given growing smartphone adoption, increasing SMS use and projected GPS ubiquity in mobile devices (late ’07 in the U.S.).

For NearbyNow, this opportunity is even greater. The corpus of data the company makes available and searchable is refined to the microcosm of a single shopping center or mall. Though this doesn’t allow it to scale to the degree that a broader mobile local search solution can, it taps into a somewhat captive audience of mall shoppers whose captivity (for lack of a better term) and proximity make their intent to buy much greater.

This is therefore just about as close as we’ve gotten to a true direct response medium (text “Ray Ban Sunglasses” to NearbyNow –> receive product information and location –> walk over to Sunglass Hut –> hand over money). This scenario (albeit a bit utopian, but you get the idea) can apply to shoppers within a mall, as well as those who are out and about.

Interestingly, this product is also appropriate for NearbyNow given that there is a big overlap between the demographics of the average “mall rat” and those for which text messaging is a popular and frequently used medium.

The challenge for NearbyNow will be to spread awareness and get users to memorize or store the SMS code of the mall(s) they frequent. NearbyNow’s partnerships with shopping centers themselves will make this awareness easier by being able to promote the product and drill the idea into shoppers’ heads (via signage throughout the mall). The mall-rat factor mentioned above will also help this traction.

This is an interesting development, and we expect NearbyNow to continue to sign on mall partners and grow to additional cities as shopping centers and mall retailers see the advertising opportunities in an acutely geotargeted shopping search engine. Here is more on the company from ClickZ, and we’ll provide additional coverage in next week’s issue of Local Media Journal.

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