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A Florida shopping mall's holiday sales promotion using prepaid telephone cards is likely to become a hot retail promotional tool next year.

No. 3 shopping mall operator Rouse Co. is giving away cards offering free long-distance calling time and other gifts to each customer spending at least $150 at any of the 136 specialty retail stores in its Tallahassee Governor's Square mall.

Participants get 20 minutes of free long-distance calling time, $10 in free gift wrapping and a variety of gift-with-purchase offers, for an estimated total value of $50.

Since its launch Nov. 9, the promotion has drawn more than 800 participants and racked up $200,000 in specialty store sales, say mall operators. By yearend, the promotion is expected to trigger $500,000 in merchandise sales, boosting specialty store results 5% to 10% above normal.

Local outdoor boards, print ads and radio spots, plus in-store signage, created by the Zimmerman Agency, Tallahassee, backs the promotion. The marketing budget is less than $1 million.

The promotion excludes the four department store anchors, which do independent promotions.

"[The promotion] has been so successful it's likely to be expanded [to other Rouse malls] next year and will be enhanced to include promotions utilizing pre-paid phone cards for individual stores," said Luanne Lenberg, mall sales and marketing manager.

Rouse has 78 shopping malls nationwide, including New York's South Street Seaport, Boston's Faneuil Hall and Baltimore's Gallery at Harborplace.

The promotion is also driving "substantially higher than usual" sales at five mall specialty stores where holders of the pre-paid card also qualify for additional gift-with-purchase offers.

Participating retailers have been equipped with a magnetic card reader that tracks each customer's usage and will help analyze promotion results.

Governor's Square and Rouse Co., Columbia, Md., coordinated the in-house promotion.

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