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How apps can help you shop smarter

A man displays his iPhone 4 in New York City.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: Saving money is a no-brainer in the Internet age. Go online, find promotional codes, coupons -- special offers galore. And these days, you don't even have to be at your computer to get those deals. All you need is a smartphone and a dose of appiphilia.

Michelle Maltais is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, and a self proclaimed "appiphiliac." Michelle, welcome to the show.

Michelle Maltais: Thank you.

VIGELAND: O.K., what is an appiphiliac and is there a medicine for that?

MALTAIS: Well the only cure for that is more apps, it's like more cowbell.

VIGELAND: Which, by the way, is an app.

MALTAIS: It is, indeed. Appiphilia is the desire, and the need, the drive to just download and play with more apps. There are not enough apps in the day to cure that ill.

VIGELAND: All right, we're going to talk about some of the shopping apps that are out there. How can these save me a little cold hard cash?

MALTAIS: Well number one: many of them are free. And they can help comparison shop and organize your life.

VIGELAND: Give me an example of how one of these apps might help me out. So if I wanted to find that perfect pair of fall 2010 shoes?

MALTAIS: First of all, you can look in the store and see if there's an app for that store. They may list their special offers in there. Then also, one of my favorites is called Red Laser.

VIGELAND: Red Laser?

MALTAIS: It has changed the way I shop. If it has a barcode on it, you can zap it and you can find out what the prices are for any item, just about any item, and compare and decide whether you want to spend your money right there or go to another store or buy it online.

VIGELAND: How does that work then?

MALTAIS: You open it up, you touch the lightning bolt, it launches your camera and it gives you a field in which to focus on the barcode. Once it gets a fix on the barcode, it takes a picture and comes back with information about that item, and the various prices for it.

VIGELAND: Let me see if we have an example here. We've got some hand sanitizer here in the studio, because of all the Marketplace hosts have very dirty hands. And it does have a barcode on it, do you want to give that a shot?

MALTAIS: Let's give it a shot. We'll scan the barcode on our sanitizer here; it fixes on it, and it says instantly, 'hand sanitizer.' Sometimes it'll come back with more information than that, but that's all we get for this one.

VIGELAND: So if you're in the store, does it also give you a price?

MALTAIS: Well it does have geolocation capabilities, so it can tell you what prices are locally and online.

VIGELAND: Any other favorites?

MALTAIS: Well that technology is used in multiple apps. You'll find red laser scanning in the Shopper app, which is a little deeper than the Red Laser itself. You can create shopping lists, and it's available on both the iPhone and the Blackberry.

VIGELAND: Now I don't have that app but that sounds to me like you can walk around your house, scan things that you want to then go buy at the store and then you have a natural list?

MALTAIS: Indeed. And you can also create a list on your desktop, so you don't need a smart phone to do this. And it can help you budget. So as you're making that list, if you know how much it is, if you're in the store you can write down how much it is, it'll calculate the tax. If you have a coupon, you can include that, and you can keep track what you have on your list as well as what you have in your cart.

VIGELAND: Honestly this all sounds to me like it adds quite a bit of time and effort onto the shopping experience? I'm one of those people, 'I'm just gonna go. I'm just gonna go to the mall, I'm gonna walk through, see what's on discount, what's not.'

MALTAIS: Well yes. The challenge is being organized takes time.

VIGELAND: That is true.

MALTAIS: There are some other cool apps that help you save money even as you spend.

VIGELAND: O.K.

MALTAIS: Coupon Sherpa.

VIGELAND: So these are people who are helping you up the shopping mountain?

MALTAIS: Indeed. This also offers geolocation and that'll help you in terms of figuring out where you are and whether there are deals there for you. A number of crowdsourcing apps are out, there's GroupOn and Living Social. There's some that help you keep track of your loyalty discount cards. You're carrying less; your phone's serving as sort of a mobile wallet.

VIGELAND: Michelle Maltais is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where she regularly reviews iPhone apps. Thanks so much for coming in.

View a list of Michelle's top 10 shopping apps on the Los Angeles Times website.

MALTAIS: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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