Who's Got Your Levis? Check the Web

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Consumers will soon be able to use the Web to find the closest retailer that has their favorite pair of Levi pants in stock.

Vicinity Corp., a database firm whose Business Finder service allows consumers to search marketers' Web sites for products or services at bricks-and-mortar stores, has extended its relationship with Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco, to find exact inventory at retail outlets.

"There's a big advantage to marketing this kind of data," said Eric Winkler, vice president of marketing at Vicinity, Palo Alto, CA. "It means that retailers no longer need to balance their inventory as they did in the past, because this gives the brand the ability to direct consumers to stores that have the most inventory."

The launch date of Levi's inventory locator has not been scheduled yet. The Levi Web site on which it will debut is also unknown. Levi's sites are levi.com, slates.com and dockers.com. Levi executives were not immediately reachable.

Vicinity is also in talks with other marketers to incorporate this inventory search function. Initially, it will focus on players such as Levi Strauss that use the Internet to showcase products, but not to sell them.

Vicinity's other possible applications include hotel-room vacancies, doctors' availability to see new patients, and used car parts.

Winkler said Vicinity is negotiating with 350 customers, including McDonald's Corp., The Home Depot, Ford Motor Co., Marriott and Tricon Restaurants. These marketers pay Vicinity an annual fee to generate search leads.

"The benefit to the retailer is that because consumers are being directed to stores that have products in stock, there's an opportunity to cross-sell other products that are in the store," Winkler said. "We believe that it also makes price less of a factor in the purchase decision, because it centers the purchase around the brand and the location of the product."

Vicinity wants to make sure, though, that the inventory locator is eventually used by e-tailers as well.

"We think that a lot of it comes down to social behavior, that people have shopped in bricks-and-mortar locations for decades and decades," Winkler said. "What we do with our solution is we enable shoppers to use new technology to do the same ingrained social behavior."

Through its search engine, Vicinity allows consumers to find businesses, telephone numbers, brands, sites and physical addresses via the Internet as well as fixed-line, cellular and wireless application protocol-enabled telephones, personal digital assistants and wireless devices.

Last month the company announced the bundling of its BrandFinder and MapBlast functions on new Palm hand-held devices. This will provide information on brand-name bricks-and-mortar locations, maps and driving directions.

Beginning next week, AT&T cellular customers will be able to find offline store information by searching options on mobile telephones.

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