NearbyNow’s Trifecta: Partnership, Funding, iPhone

NearbyNow had a three-pronged announcement today including a $12 million series C round, a distribution partnership with TheFind.com and a new iPhone app. The funding was led by Norwest Ventures and will primarily be used to build infrastructure for traffic growth and expand the mobile search capabilities of its flagship shopping mall product search.

The partnership with TheFind meanwhile extends this service for the first time beyond searches on its own site, those of its shopping mall partners and SMS-based in-mall mobile queries. Its searchable product feeds and inventory information for mall retailers will now be served on TheFind.com as a complement to the site’s existing product searches and comparisons. These feeds cover roughly 30,000 stores and 200 national retailers, and TheFind will receive a rev share of reserved items from NearbyNow (CPA model).

TheFind should benefit from this added functionality, and this is the latest example of a company taking to heart the reality that a sizable opportunity exists to lead and track local offline purchases. That’s where the majority of U.S. retail activity happens, and that is the information that ready to buy consumers want.

“Our data shows that most people want to have an item in their hands in less than 24 hours,” says Scott Dunlap, NearbyNow’s cofounder and chief executive officer. “The other thing they’re saying is that they want to try things on and try things out and see them in person. The more we talk to comparison shopping sites, we realize that having that extra button to find it locally is attractive.”

This is especially so in categories that are expensive, heavy or require seeing things in person, such as flat screens, appliances and high-end jewelry. “Jewelry is mostly men buying gift items,” says Dunlap. “They love the ability to search and scan items online, but when it comes to the purchase, they don’t want to whip out the credit card until they see the actual item.”

TheFind will also let NearbyNow grow its search volume and new categories where local product search makes sense. Building out this infrastructure will be a major use of its new funds, according to Dunlap. “We started off in shopping malls, so our biggest conversions are in apparel, clothes and shoes,” he says. “TheFind’s database is huge, so we’re excited to see what other product categories take off.”

For NearybyNow, this is also a step that represents a trend in local search to push out data and search capabilities to see more usage in other well-traveled search destinations. This formula works well when you have a unique and differentiated product that needs more exposure than it gets on a company’s own Web site. We’ve seen this strategy put in action recently by EveryScape, Smalltown, and Krillion (also partnered with TheFind).

Lastly, the company announced an iPhone application (available in July) that offers graphical maps of shopping malls along with product inventory and reserve in-store features. Given that a great deal of its value proposition (users and advertisers) is based on the relevance of proximity (in-mall searches), mobile product development will continue to be a priority.

The iPhone app is a logical choice, says Dunlap, because iPhone users are not only demographically attractive to mall retail advertisers, but behaviorally relevant for certain types of mall products and heavy mobile search users.

“IPhone users tend to have more discretionary income and are much more fashion forward in their thinking,” he says, “so they’re constantly looking for what’s new and what’s hot.”

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Disclosure: A TKG quote was used in NearbyNow’s press release, but there is no financial relationship between the two companies.

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