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Making shopping more of a snap with your smartphone

September 24, 2010 |  5:16 pm

Who couldn't use a good bargain these days? We pull out a few free and inexpensive smartphone apps that make shopping a little less of a chore.

RedLaser Barcode readers

    RedLaser (free for iPhone): Think "red laser" as in the laser in the scanner at the cash register. By tapping the lightning bolt on the screen and steadying the phone's camera over a barcode, you can get details in a flash. If the camera isn't picking up the barcode, you can tap in the digits in the code. You can create wish lists of your scans and e-mail your list.

It's a great tool for comparison shopping online -- and offline. There's a "local" feature that looks for your products at nearby locations using the location services of your phone.  On many food items, RedLaser calls up nutritional information. Of course, it doesn't always find what you're looking for, but we've had more hits than misses.

Google Shopper Google Shopper (free for Android): This Google app lets you do a voice search and image or barcode search. Same concept, tap and zap. You can share results through many avenues including Bluetooth, e-mail and Twitter. Like RedLaser, this app lets you do comparison shopping online and offline. It also provides reviews when available.

You can also use your Android phone to snap the cover of a book, DVD or video game to get details (available in SnapTell for iPhone).

The voice-searching works fine, too. But it can be a little less specific. For instance, if you just say "The Lucky Ones," you're likely to get a bunch of results to weed through until you find the one you're really looking for. 

ShopSavvy ShopSavvy (free for Android, iPhone, Nokia and $1.99 for iPhone 2G): It also offers barcode scanning and wish lists like the other two. ShopSavvy also recognizes QR codes, those codes you may see popping up in stores and magazines that look like some kind of inkblot or obscurist black and white box art. 

Another helpful feature is the price alert for items you're interested in. It lists prices for stores built on clicks and bricks.


Lists

Shopper Shopper (free for Android, BlackBerry, 99 cents for iPhone or the free "Lite" version): This is one of the apps that includes RedLaser barcode scanning. There's also a Web interface you can access from your computer of choice. The lists you create are sharable via e-mail or through the app. Shared lists will update with any changes. You can customize your stores lists with those you frequent and get a list of weekly deals. 

You can also use the app to track your grocery budget and spending. It'll calculate what's on your list versus what's in your cart, add in tax and the discount for any coupons you have.

Remember we mentioned scanning? Well, for those of us who are more impulse buyers than planners, you can scan items into your shopping list. And if it's something you plan to buy again, you can make it a favorite to save the information you've already entered.

It'll also send "carts," so you can let your other half know what's already been bought.

Evernote Evernote (free for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre/Pixi, Windows Mobile): This app is one of those gems that you probably have sitting on your phone and never use. But make a note to yourself to use it. Not only is it accessible on multiple smartphone platforms, you can use it on your Mac or PC, making it quite the MVP. You can create text lists, photo and audio notes. We recently used it for both a honey-do list and for mattress shopping, complete with geolocated photos.

There are also numerous apps that play nicely with Evernote, letting you save snippets and clippings into Evernote.


Discount shopping

Groupon Groupon (free for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone): So one of the trends that seems to continue making its rounds is coupon crowdsourcing. There are typically one to three deals in your area per day. (Now there are more than 70 cities covered.)  A minimum number of people have to buy the deal to make it viable, then it's on -- your credit card, that is. You end up with a voucher that you can either print out or present on your mobile phone. Just consider that you may have to hand over your precious device to a complete stranger if you choose not to print it.

There's typically an expiration date and restrictions. The user interface on the app is super slick and easy to use.

Living Social Living Social (free for Android, iPhone): This is another super easy-to-use group discount app. They've recently expanded to add 25 more markets in the United States including Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Fresno and L.A.'s South Bay, as well as parts of the United Kingdom and Canda. Check the site for a full list.

Like Groupon, there's a time limit to get the deal and a minimum number of buy-ins before it's a go. The app also includes a list of things to do in your particular area, but it's apparently just another form of advertising.

We're told a Blackberry app is in the works.

Word of caution: As with any deal, if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be.  Treat deals from any crowd-sourcing discounter as you would any purchase. Be skeptical, and confirm the seller is a reputable business. That said, we've had good experiences with discounts from both services.

Yowza Yowza (free for iPhone): Essentially, these are coupons on the go for everything from chicken wings to six-strings to slingbacks. We used this the other day at Lane Bryant, who is a recently added retailer. Although the attendant at the register wasn't familiar with this type of coupon, she did easily type in the discount code once she confirmed the store actually did take them.

One of the nice features is that many of the coupons allow for multiple use. You slide the arrow to reveal the code, and it gets counted as one use.

Kind of tricky -- saving you money by encouraging you to spend more. The Yowza!! Savings tab could be helpful in justifying to your significant other that spur-of-the-moment spending spree at Guitar Center, for instance. And, if you're the kind that overshares, you can also e-mail, tweet or Facebook how much you saved. 

Like most of the other apps above, it has a geolocation feature that lets you know what participating stores are near. You can track specific stores and tag coupons for use later.

Loyalty cards

Cardstar Cardstar (free for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone): You can lighten your load somewhat by either tapping in or zapping in your loyalty cards. This is likely the most labor-intensive and yet simple of the bunch. It does one thing -- stores your loyalty cards. Unfortunately, you have to meticulously type in the numbers yourself, leaving room for human error. That said, it keeps all of the membership numbers you may ever need. We're hoping in future upgrades, they do include the ability to tap in a photo of the number or barcode. 

Key Ring Key Ring Rewards Cards (free for Android, iPhone): Less labor-intensive, this app also can be quite handy for those times you're without your keyring and can't remember which phone number it's listed under. You can either type in the digits or snap in a photo of the barcode. Hallelujah!

Also, for those stores that use Cellfire coupons that get uploaded to your loyalty card, you can track which coupons you have available.  

On both of the loyalty card apps, we did have difficulty on a few fronts getting our on-screen barcodes scanned. There was the psychological barrier and then the technological one. Several efforts with different hand-held scanners failed. Don't bother trying with flatbed scanners -- they won't work. 

These are just 10 we use most out of hundreds out there. Just about every retail operator out there worth visiting has an app available, with a variety of features.

We'd love to hear from you about the ones you like best. Share your favorites in the comments section or tweet me @mmaltaisLAT

-- Michelle Maltais

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