Can't find a Wii? iTrack it down

By Sharon Wynne, tbt* Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007

Technology is finally coming to the aid of beleaguered parents who in years past stood in line to wrestle the last Tickle Me Elmo or Xbox 360 out of other shoppers' hands.

The Web site iTrackr.com aims to keep tabs on the hot must-haves by monitoring the inventory at local Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, EBGames, Sears and Target stores, and updating its subscribers every few hours about stores in their ZIP code.

Itrackr.com president John Rizzo said he was inspired by eBay, which doesn't make or sell any products of its own. It just puts buyers and sellers together.

Though his Boca Raton-based company isn't making money on the venture yet with this free service, he sees a future in connecting Web-savvy customers with real bricks-and-mortar retailers, adding price comparison features and even e-mailed coupons to steer traffic directly into local stores.

"Just like Google, we are a search engine," Rizzo said. The algorithm his company invented searches the inventory and shipping records of numerous retailers to track when products are in stock.

A check of Tampa Bay area stores turned out to be accurate (and even helped a few co-workers track down a Wii for Christmas).

Some users, however, complained when the elusive Wii wasn't in the Game Stop or retailer as promised. iTrackr reminds users that some stores are slow to update their inventory, so call before heading out and talk to a manager rather than a clerk because the stuff might not be on the floor yet.

The idea started in 2005 when the Xbox 360 hit the market and was in hot demand. Rizzo's partner came up with an algorithm he used to check one local Best Buy in South Florida that would send an alert to mobile phones when the game system was in stock.

"I got thinking that it was cute to do one little store, but what if we did that systemwide and nationwide?"

The stores themselves could also do this, but Rizzo said he so far hasn't encountered any resistance from retailers.

"We take people who are shopping online and researching online," Rizzo said. "We are physically pushing them into a bricks and mortar location so they can have the product today instead of waiting for the shipping."

Since he can't build a business simply on the must-have products being out of stock, Rizzo sees the long-term goal for the site as a vehicle for advertising. He envisions retailers targeting coupons to customers who are actively looking to buy, say, a coffeepot or a new television. They would be able to use their cell phones to look up price comparisons in their ZIP code and even get an e-mailed coupon from a retailer.

Last year the site had 75,000 users, and thanks to Web buzz is up to 150,000 registered users. It gives Rizzo thoughts of even bigger game: determined mommies.

"The applications are limitless," Rizzo said. "I have some thoughts on ways we could use this to get Miley Cyrus tickets, like the ones the scalpers got to."