Smartphones really live up to their name when it comes to shopping. Your phone can help you make smarter spending decisions by putting information, special offers and other resources right in the palm of your hand.
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Here are eight ways a smartphone can be a savvy consumer's BFF, along with some free apps that can help.
1. Price comparison
Even if you don't feel like downloading a bunch of apps, your phone's browser can be a handy shopping tool, says Bruce Clark, associate professor of marketing and Frank Murphy Family Fellow at Northeastern University in Boston.
"Found some good research sites? Leave those tabs open on your browser so that you can easily access them once you're in the store," says Clark.
But apps may be the best tool for price comparison that smartphones have to offer.
"One of the easiest ways to score the best price is to use a bar code scanning app," says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert.
For example, Amazon Mobile scans the bar code of an item and searches for prices on Amazon.com.
RedLaser is another popular price comparison app. Scan your item, and the app compares prices from thousands of online and in-store retailers. RedLaser will even map out the retailers near you.
2. Price matching
Price matching is nothing new, but bar code scanning apps like RedLaser make it much easier, says Woroch.
"In addition to pointing you toward the best price, you can also use this ... to get a price match," Woroch says. "Target and Best Buy will price match their main competitors as well as online stores like Amazon."
Other popular retailers who will also match online prices:
- Fry's Electronics.
In many cases, all you have to do is show the retailer your phone. For example, Target's price-match guarantee reads: "For matching online competitors, the retail price must be shown on your mobile device or by bringing in a printed page showing the current price."
Target says it will price match Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com and ToysRUs.com. Best Buy's list of accepted retailers is even longer.
If a retailer refuses to price match, you can always order the item then and there.
3. Coupon hunting
Your smartphone can help you find coupons, too. RetailMeNot is a coupon database app that allows users to share coupons and coupon codes, and can even send you deals based on where you are using your phone's GPS. To use a mobile coupon offered by the app, simply flash the coupon at the register.
Coupons.com offers its own mobile platform, too. You can digitally add available coupons to a store loyalty card linked to the app. Other couponing apps:
- Coupon Sherpa.
- Grocery Smarts.
4. Getting organized
"Organization is the key for saving time and money," Woroch says. "Since nearly every retailer, department store and supermarket offers a loyalty program these days, your wallet is likely filled with plastic-card clutter."
Key Ring and CardStar are apps that organize all of these cards in one place: your smartphone.
Many apps can help you organize your grocery trips, too. Woroch points to ZipList, which searches recipes and adds the recipe ingredients to your list.
"The app pinpoints items on sale and provides coupons so you never overpay," Woroch says.
Remember The Milk is another popular option in this category.
But even without these apps, your phone can be a useful organization tool.
"Put a shopping list in your phone," Clark says. "This will remind you of everything you need to get. For example, if you're looking for a laptop, you may want software or adapters as well. ... Put prices next to the items on the list based on your research."
5. Earning points and rewards
A handful of apps reward you just for shopping. For example, users of an app called Shopkick can check in at certain retailers and earn points. Once you accumulate a certain number of points, you can trade them in for gift cards.
Similar apps include:
- Surveys On The Go (requires you take surveys during shopping trips).
6. Calculating prices
Ever struggled with converting price units in the middle of the grocery aisle?
The Apples2Oranges app can help with that; it quickly and easily computes a price per unit of measure.
If you don't feel like downloading a separate app to do it, most phones have a handy calculator built in that will do the job.
7. Researching products and companies
Having access to both professional reviews on sites like Consumer Reports and potentially thousands of customer reviews on sites like Amazon and CNET can be a big help when you're shopping.
But you can also do some checking up on the manufacturers of those products, too.
Buycott is an app that scans a product and tells you how the company fits in with your social views. Fill out your profile and tell the app what social issues are important to you. If a product's company conflicts with your ideals, the app will let you know.
Such information is getting easier to find, Clark says.
"Retailers have figured out that people are going to be doing online research in-store anyway, and so are getting much better at providing online information themselves," Clark says.
8. Paying for goods
Some retailers now allow you to pay with your smartphone. Apps like Square Wallet store your bank and debit card information. You can pay at participating retailers right from your phone.
Overall, from comparison shopping to paying for goods, smartphones have truly become an all-in-one resource for savvy spenders.
Copyright 2014, Bankrate Inc.