Part of the allure of online shopping is that it eliminates the commonplace annoyance of going to a store to pick up the specific item only to find it's out of stock. Instead, you can go to Amazon.com, type in what you're looking for and if they've got it, great, if not, at least you didn't sit in traffic on a fruitless quest.

Well, now some malls are looking to offer that same capability.

In August, General Growth Properties' Eastridge Center in San Jose, Calif. became the first mall to adopt software developed by Silicon Valley startup Nearby Now. The service works much like Google except rather than scanning the Internet, Nearby Now searches a database it builds by getting every tenant in a center to provide inventories of items for sale at the center.

Looking for Nike products? The database returns 16 stores in the mall carrying products by the sporting goods manufacturer. Not only that, but it populates a map of the mall identifying exactly where those stores are so a shopper can locate the closest parking spot.

Eastridge marketing manager Alice Lam says that traffic at the mall's Web site has tripled since it launched the service.

“People who are time-starved, men who want to get in and out, have really enjoyed the service,” says Lam, based on feedback she's received through the mall's Web site. “We also anticipate stay-at-home moms with young children that have limited time to shop will find that this helps them figure out what we've got, where they should park, etc.”

Nearby Now CEO Scott Dunlap came up with the idea when he and some friends were talking about how they shopped and noticed that a lot of people have developed a practice of researching purchases online before they bought, even if they eventually made the final purchase at a store. It's heavily modeled on Google.

“Malls make the most sense to start this kind of service,” Dunlap says. “There's a lot to choose from, but we also found that most people don't know where to buy what they want at a mall. Sometimes, they just go and assume someone will have what they want.”

Nearby Now's service also enables shoppers to reserve the products they want. If they choose that option, the site alerts Nearby Now's staff who then immediately call the store to make sure the item is still in stock. They then follow up with the customer.

General Growth is so confident in the software, it already has plans to roll it out at more than 50 of its malls and will likely eventually adopt the platform at its 200-plus properties. In October, Westfield Group's Oakridge Mall, also in San Jose, also launched the service and the company has similar plans for a wider rollout.

The appeal of the system for mall owners is that Nearby Now's revenue is based entirely on advertising that it generates from mall tenants. The mall owners themselves pay nothing.

While Nearby Now works with every tenant to list available inventory (updating its records every 48 to 72 hours), it offers retailers the option to purchase enhanced listings. They also have the option to purchase text and banner ads. For example, when a shopper searches for Nike at Eastridge, retailers' listings can incorporate pictures of Nike products carried at that location. Nearby Now charges approximately $50 per month for advanced listings and a similar amount for banner ads. Like Google, Nearby Now also hopes to generate revenue from click-throughs on those advertisements.

Users can also access the service via cell phones, meaning they can conduct product searches as they traipse through the property.

Nearby Now is exploring offering kiosks, for a cost, at the centers. There customers can search and print out their results, including maps. For now, it is putting several kiosks in each mall for free, but, if mall managers want them to stay, they'll eventually have to pay a fee.

Texas Star

General Growth Properties is looking to round up more retailers for its growing portfolio of shopping centers in Texas.

“Stars of Texas,” which launched this fall, features General Growth Properties' holdings throughout Texas to entice retailers, corporations and homeowners to its expanding list of shopping centers and master-planned communities.

General Growth Properties owns 16 properties across Texas in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Last year, Texas retailers at General Growth shopping centers generated almost $4 billion in sales and had 220 million shoppers.

Clear Sailing

Clear Channel Malls has entered into a partnership with Turnberry Associates to produce and maintain signage throughout Turnberry's Aventura Mall.

A division of Clear Channel Outdoor, Clear Channel Malls will be responsible for the 16 directory units in the heavily traveled mall.

The mall's directory units are designed to complement the overall look of the shopping center.

In addition to Aventura Mall, Clear Channel Malls' clients include General Growth Properties' Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio, Galleria Dallas and Fashion Show in Las Vegas.

Green Power

Coldwater Creek been named to the Environmental Protection Agency's list of Top Ten retail buyers of green power.

The women's apparel retailer ranked No. 6, its debut on the list, which recognizes retailers within the Green Power Partnership that have completed the largest voluntary green power purchases annually.

Coldwater Creek purchased 45 million kilowatt-hours of green power to offset its electricity use. The Sandpoint, Idaho-based retailer is offsetting all its electricity consumption with wind power for its headquarters, distribution and customer contact centers and a growing number of retail stores.

The EPA's Green Power Partnership, with more than 600 partners, is a voluntary program that seeks to reduce the risk of climate change and any environmental impact by promoting the use of green power among organizations in the U.S.

Shop-O-Meter

Scarborough Research and Arbitron Inc. have rolled out a new gauge to measure mall shoppers' awareness of marketers' advertisements.

The Scarborough Mall Shopper Audience data gives advertisers feedback on the value of their ads and promotions in malls and shopping centers.

The new metric, analyzing an ad or promotion's reach during the past seven days, is an expansion of Scarborough Research's study that collects information on shopping at individual shopping centers over 30- and 90-day periods.

The intent behind the service is that developers can use Scarborough's data to assess retail offerings and help enhance shoppers' experiences.