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The days of having to know somebody who knows somebody to get an appointment at the local chi-chi salon could be over, as using the online ecosystem as a way to make your life easier and find deals rapidly becomes localized.

International business network MerchantCircle today launched its new Appointment Scheduler, a free, easy-to-use online tool for customers to book appointments with local businesses online.

Founded in 2005, over 1.4 million merchants currently use the MerchantCircle network to upload pictures, blog, create coupons and newsletters, and connect with customers and other merchants.

In addition, regional consumers can find more than 20 million business listings through the company’s homepage or major search engines in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The free Appointment Scheduler now lets small, local merchants capture inbound online appointment requests from potential customers via an easy-to-use calendaring system, and manage their bookings right from their MerchantCircle Dashboard.

More than 1.4 million members of the site can now set up appointments online, with businesses then receiving email notifications that a meeting has been booked and a confirmation is required.

Customers who schedule an appointment will be automatically notified by email of confirmed appointments—and have automatic reminders about those appointments sent to them within 24 hours of their booking date and time.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company compares the new tool to popular embedded restaurant reservation website Open Table, but for other kinds of businesses besides eateries.

“We’ve set out to increase conversations between local business owners and customers and the Open Table style Appt Scheduler will allow them to easily manage inbound appointment requests online at no cost,” Darren Waddell, MerchantCircle vice president of product marketing, told VentureBeat.

The Appointment Scheduler is also available as an embeddable widget for members’ personal business websites, in addition to their MerchantCircle listing, as a way to centralize all appointments.

The company said it will soon take advantage of social networking tools as a way to schedule appointments and raise its profile, with Facebook integration in the pipeline for the near future.

“Consumers will also enjoy the convenience of seeing available time slots and requesting appointments online for their favorite neighborhood businesses who haven’t previously been able to offer this capability in large part,” said Waddell.


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