It was winter 2005 and Alex Muller needed a sweeper. The New York City resident began wandering around looking for stores that might carry them. But he missed the Internet with its easy access to vacuum cleaner ratings, reviews, and information on who might have good ones.
That experience inspired the Carnegie Mellon University alum to launch a shopping service for users of mobile phones. His company offers Slifter.com, one of a rash of new cell-phone services.
Some charge fees, others are free beyond air time or texting charges, with retailers paying for clicks.
But, with Americans embracing handheld devices, the time may be near when a lot of shopping will be done, at least initially, by consumers letting their fingers do the walking on the cell-phone numbers pad.
At the beginning of the year, Slifter had tallied more than 150,000 users, Mr. Muller said. That could grow with a partnership deal expected soon with a major cell-phone carrier.
Every night, the inventory status is updated. The company, which has fewer than 25 employees and isn't profitable, must tackle ongoing issues with pulling data from numerous sources and working through different phone carriers.
Frucall, a California company, offers online options for merchandise that consumers see in local stores. For instance, a Sears in Pittsburgh recently had a Next Generation George Foreman Grill G5 on sale for $129.99. Typing in the item's bar code at Frucall generated a report that the grill could be purchased at Amazon.com for $100, including estimated shipping costs.
There are other services along those lines, including one being tested by Yahoo Inc. But generally those pit online vs. traditional retailer. Frucall can't tell the shopper looking for a last-minute Christmas gift if the same grill is carried in other stores at a mall.
NearbyNow, another California venture, is working on that. This company is wiring malls to help those looking for, say, jeans to identify which stores carry the right brands.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Teresa F. Lindeman is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.