A new smartphone app coming to Charlottesville residents and visitors will allow users to “catch” deals as they walk by businesses on and around the Downtown Mall. The app, created by area resident Molly Lapekas and her husband Mike Derdeyn, is called Local Catch.

Local Catch uses iBeacons to alert app users to deals as they pass by participating stores. The beacons are small, about the size of an egg, and attach to the outside of a storefront. Bluetooth and location services enabled on a smartphone allow the signals from the beacons to be transmitted to a user’s phone.

“Proximity-based marketing is becoming more popular as mobile is impacting how people shop,” said Lapekas. “People are consulting their phones the moment they make a purchase decision. What we are trying to do is it be part of that space. In the moment when they’re here and when it matters, we’ll have the information they need.”

Participating shopkeepers are eager to market to customers on their smartphones.

“In general, the world is moving towards digital,” said Heather Haynie, co-owner of the paper goods store Rock, Paper, Scissors. “It felt like the right time and a good thing to try.”

The app will collect deals for stores that the user walks by, which can then be viewed. Coupons, sales, daily specials, or general information about a retailer can be shared with consumers on Local Catch.

Lapekas emphasizes that the app will be passive and will not alert users every time they pass a deal.

“I have the lowest tolerance for anything being annoying on my phone,” said Lapekas. “I don’t want people pinging me, buzzing me, or sending me something at home when it’s not relevant to me. You will only receive notifications and deals when you are down on the Downtown Mall.”

Currently, over 20 businesses on and near the Downtown Mall have signed up to participate in the program. From restaurants and hotels to boutiques and museums, users will find a variety of downtown retailers represented on Local Catch.

Local Catch will focus on building relationships and presence on the Downtown Mall where Lapekas wants to help local businesses succeed.  

“I think that the Downtown Mall is the centerpiece of what Charlottesville is all about,” said Lapekas. “It represents so much of what I love and want to preserve. We’re also giving local merchants access to marketing technology that is frequently reserved for big box businesses because it can be expensive or complicated to manage.”

Downtown store owners participating in the app agree.

“We’d hadn’t been presented with a platform like this before,” said Haynie. “Nor do we have the capacity to develop an app on our own. So to have somebody come to us with the app already made and with other local businesses signed up was great.”

Mazi Vogler, owner of clothing boutique Verdigris, is looking forward to reaching customers in a more efficient way.

“If someone’s coming downtown to shop, it will be nice for them to learn about our featured products and sales right on their phone,” Vogler said. “It saves a lot of time for us.”

The app will be marketed to both locals and visitors alike. Area residents who are frequently on the mall can benefit from the daily deals. Charlottesville visitors may learn about the app while staying at participating hotels and inns, providing them with more information about their visit to the Downtown Mall.  

Lapekas hopes that Local Catch will also encourage users to visit new retailers that they hadn’t discovered before.

“I’ve lived here since I was 12,” said Lapekas. “There are so many businesses I’d never been in before. You get in a routine and you go to the same places for lunch. If you’re sending gentle reminders to people about places they’re passing, you can help steer people towards new stores and new experiences.”

Lapekas hopes that these new experiences become positive relationships built between customers and owners.

“The majority of the businesses owners on the Downtown Mall are the people manning the storefront,” said Lapekas. “These are people who want to build a relationship with you.”

The app is in final testing and will be released to the public later this summer. It will be available for free on the App Store for iPhones users.