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11 smartphone tips for holiday shopping

Compare prices, keep receipts, avoid lines and entertain restless kids

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If the thought of making lists, battling crowds and spending lots of money makes you feel less than jolly, cheer up. You might already have a tool that can make holiday shopping a snap: your smartphone.

In a 2012 holiday survey from Deloitte Consulting, about half of the 5,089 consumers polled own a smartphone, and 68 percent of those who do plan to use their device to help with shopping this season.

However, some shoppers might not be taking full advantage of the capabilities of their phones: While 58 percent of smartphone owners surveyed plan to use their devices to compare prices, only 39 percent will use their phones to get discounts, coupons and sale information. "That was a surprise," says Deloitte Consulting principal Lisa Gomez.

Ease holiday shopping stress with your smartphone

So, how can you make the best use of your smartphone to save time, money and your sanity this season? Here are 11 ways:

1. Make your gift list. Making your list (and checking it twice) is easier on a smartphone, experts say. At a glance, you can see a running total of how much you've spent on little Timmy or get a reminder that Great Aunt Maude wanted spa socks and a romance novel. Apps such as The Christmas List and Christmas Gift List Planner allow users to create password-protected lists, track spending and email their lists. Money-saving expert Andrea Woroch says making a list on your phone can keep you from feeling overwhelmed and help you stick to your budget.

2. Corral your coupons. The flurry of coupons that come out during the holidays can help you save big, but they're hard to organize, experts say. The app SnipSnap allows you to snap photos of paper coupons and store them on your phone. "Some of the best coupons you'll get will come in the mail or in the newspaper," says Ted Mann, founder and CEO of SnipSnap, who says about 93 percent of coupons are still printed. But, he says, paper coupons are easy to forget at home. Users of the app who turn on the feature that alerts them when they walk into a store for which they have a coupon are 50 percent more likely to redeem the coupon, Mann says. Some apps, including RetailMeNot's, can use the phone's geolocation feature to alert you to deals nearby. 

3. Find your way around. Many shoppers would rather be home sipping eggnog by the tree than driving to yet another mall. So, it's no surprise the Deloitte survey found that 63 percent of smartphone owners plan to use their devices to get to store locations this season. Personal finance blogger Scott Gamm, founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com recommends FastMall, which allows shoppers to find a mall that has most or all of the stores where they want to shop. It can show you the way from store to store, lead you to the nearest bathroom and remind you where you parked. "It lets you get everything done in one place as quickly and conveniently as possible," Gamm says. And apps from some retailers, such as Target, also offer store maps to help you get in and out quickly.

4. Check to see if a product is in stock. Want to see if that flat-screen TV your husband covets is in stock before you drive all the way to a store? Some retailers such as Target and Best Buy have their own apps that allow you to see if a product is in stock. Or, you can send a text to a business via the iPhone app TalkTo, and TalkTo representatives will check on it for you and let you know via text message.

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5. Get personalized deals, perks and freebies. Stores are working hard to compete with online retailers this year and that can mean bigger savings for you, says Tim Gray, content strategist for Blue Fountain Media, a digital agency specializing in app development. You can use an app from the location-based social networking site Foursquare.com to get personalized recommendations and deals when you walk into a store, Gray says. And you can also sign up with your favorite retailers to get text messages with special offers when you're within a certain distance of a store. According to Gray, more retailers are using these mobile-specific deals to lure customers in the door and get them to spend this season. "It's a win-win. It's really a value to the consumer during hectic holiday shopping," Gray says. "And you can tailor it to your own needs so you're not getting a ton of stuff when you walk by any random store."

6. Uncover savings. Those weird little square codes you see cropping up everywhere are known as QR codes and are aimed only at shoppers who are using mobile devices. If you're in a store and you see a QR code on a product you're interested in, scan it, as you may uncover secret savings or sales, Woroch says.

7. Increase your negotiating power. You go to a big box store and spot the digital camera your kid wants, so you pull out your phone to see if you can get it $20 cheaper on Amazon. Many smartphone owners use their devices to compare prices (known as "showrooming"), according to the Deloitte survey, and experts say that has retailers worried. Experts recommend you use an app such as RedLaser to scan a bar code and check competing retailers' prices. If you find a better deal, Gamm recommends that you find a sales associate, show them your phone and ask them to match the price. Some stores have a policy of matching prices, he says. For example, Toys R Us and Babies R Us will match competitor prices through Dec. 24, 2012.  "You have the phone in your hand to prove the other retailer sells it for less," Gamm says. "There's no reason not to do this."

You have the phone in your hand to prove the other retailer sells it for less. There's no reason not to do this.

-- Scott Gamm
HelpSaveMyDollars.com

8. Get product information. Tracking down a sales associate to answer a question can be tricky any time of year, but during the holidays it might be easier to spot an elf. The solution? Use the retailer's app to get detailed product information. The Deloitte survey shows half of smartphone owners plan to use their devices to get product information while holiday shopping.

9. Entertain the kids while you shop. Before you head out to the stores, load up your device with apps that will amuse your little darlings if they get cranky while you're searching for something other than a mug to give their teacher. You can also use an app such as Caught Being Good, a positive-reinforcement app that encourages good behavior, to let them know Santa and you are watching to see who's being naughty or nice.

10. Avoid long lines. It's still new and not standardized, but some retailers will be experimenting with accepting mobile payments this season, Gray says. If you've already downloaded an app from your bank that allows you to pay by smartphone, you could luck out. "They walk around and ask who's paying that way," Gray says. "You were the 12th person in line and now all of a sudden you're the first person in line." Some retailers are also allowing customers to use their phones to scan a QR code and have the item shipped for free, bypassing lines. For example, Target is offering this option for the 20 most popular toys of the season, but you need to download its app first.

11. Keep your receipts. "There's nothing worse than a wallet stuffed with crinkled receipts," Woroch says. That goes double for the holidays, when a misplaced receipt could mean huge headaches if you lose a shopping bag full of gift cards or find out the sweater you bought your sister's Chihuahua is too big. So, she recommends using an app such as OneReceipt to scan in your receipts, keep them organized and make sure you can get a full refund if you need to return an item. "Plus, you can email them to gift recipients if you forgot to include the paper one in the box," Woroch says.

Holiday shopping will always be stressful, but experts say technology can help more than a little.  Gray says: "A smartphone can save you time, money and headaches, and definitely streamline the whole holiday shopping experience."

See related: Get-out-of-debt smartphone apps, Card issuers roll out limited-time offers for 2012 holidays

Published: December 10, 2012



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