Mobile apps turn smartphones into the world's greatest bargain hunter

A screen image from the mobile app ShopSavvy

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A survey from the National Retail Federation finds that cell phones are a hot trend this holiday season. But we don't mean phones as gifts. We mean using a cell phone while you're shopping.

As Andrea Gardner explains, it's arming consumers with bargaining power like never before.


ANDREA GARDNER: The toy department at Target is packed and noisy. But Shelley Scanlan stays focused. (Beep) She takes out her smart phone, and aims it at the toy she wants -- Sheriff Woody from Toy Story.

SHELLEY SCANLAN: At Target it's $54.99. (Beep) It's searching -- Amazon.com has it for $49.99.

Meet every retailers' worst nightmare before Christmas -- an app called Shop Savvy that turns your phone into a bar code scanner and search engine. On Scanlan's screen is a list of other retailers who carry Sheriff Woody. And their prices. In a down economy, this is powerful information.

ALEXANDER MUSE: Five dollars starts to add up.

That's Alexander Muse, the creator of ShopSavvy. He says millions of shoppers have the app, and are planning to use it during the holidays.

MUSE: And that means during this Christmas shopping season Shop Savvy users are going to save around $150 Million dollars. And so it makes a big difference in a lot of folks' pocket books.

And to retailers. A recent survey from WSL Strategic Retail says a quarter of consumers use their phones when they shop, often to compare prices, says WSL analyst Candace Corlett.

CANDACE CORLETT: Retailers have got to join in. You're not going to fight it. So you might as well join it and find a way to use it to your advantage. Because shoppers are going to embrace this technology. They already have. It's going to be the in-store service tool of the future.

Many big box stores now advertise their price-matching policies, so that consumers who get alerted to better deals else where won't leave empty-handed. Some, like Best Buy have created their own apps to keep shoppers in their sites.

CANDACE: The app now puts it right in the palm of your hand. And you can expect that they would go up to the manager and say, "Here look. Here's the price. Four dollars less. Match it."

Corlett says the smart phone could eventually replace the sales associate, but first it will have to learn to gift wrap.

In Los Angeles, I'm Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.

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