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Wednesday, 8 November, 2000, 01:00 GMT
An advert in your pocket
Lakeside interior BBC
Lakeside shoppers will get mobile adverts
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Mobile phone users visiting out-of-town shopping centres will soon be getting special offers sent to their handsets as they shop.

British company Spotflash is starting trials of a system called ZagMe which sends messages to handsets about bargains at the shopping mall that people are visiting.

Those signing up for the service will be rewarded with loyalty points they can cash in to pay for their phone bill, or for vouchers they can spend in participating stores.

The trial is one of the first to use location sensitive advertising, a service that many believe is set to boom over the next few years.

The first trial starts on Saturday at the Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, Essex.

Those signing up for the ZagMe service will get short text messages sent to their phone telling them about limited life offers available from some of the shops in the mall.

Handy offers

Anyone who subscribes will receive relevant special offers by telling ZagMe when they are going to be in the Lakeside shopping centre.

For the duration of their visit to Lakeside they will be sent relevant offers.

Bill Green, chief executive of Spotflash, said Lakeside had been picked because it was a geographically distinct area and full of shoppers looking for bargains.

The system will be extended to the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent early next year, and other areas are expected to follow soon after.

All the offers are exclusive to the ZagMe service, and Mr Green said more than 1,000 have been prepared for the four month trial.

Mr Green expects the service to be popular because people will only get messages from stores they are interested in visiting.

"It's got to be an opt-in system otherwise there would be a backlash because mobile phones are so personal," said Mr Green.

"Receiving unsolicited messages on your mobile will really annoy people."

Cash incentive

To encourage people to sign up, ZagMe is giving 5 of ZagPoints to everyone that joins, and an extra 5 of points for every other person a member encourages to sign up.

The points can be cashed in via the ZagMe website for vouchers to spend in participating stores or used to buy pre-pay phone vouchers.

ZagMe members also get points for every message they receive.

Shoppers can sign up for the service via the ZagMe website, by calling ZagMe or by sending an SMS message to the company. The ZagMe service works with phones from any UK mobile operator.

The trial is thought to be the first of its kind.

Mr Green said that while mobile phones are even more popular in many Scandinavian countries than in Britain, few users in those countries are interested in using phones to hunt for bargains.

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