With the holidays fast approaching, retailers are inundating shoppers with catalogs, ads and e-mail pitches touting an array of deals and markdowns. Sifting through the offers to find the best bargains can be challenging, but there’s more help than ever at hand on your iPhone and on the Web.
Shopping apps are some of handiest weapons in the deal-hunter’s arsenal. Many use the iPhone's built-in camera to read bar codes, so you can scan the codes and compare prices as you shop—and maybe get one merchant to match another’s price. Most will also let you search for products by name or by UPC number (in case you’re having difficulty scanning a bar code). And some are specifically focused on sifting through all the deals that pop up, online and in the real world, during the holidays.
I tried out the recently released iPhone app TheFind, and I was impressed with how quickly it was able to capture bar codes and then search for vendors selling those products on the Web and in local stores. Results from TheFind also have links to coupons and maps.
Another iPhone app with a bar-code scanner, ShopSavvy, adds several useful features of its own, including access to user reviews, current deal offers from partners, a shopping-list utility, and a history of recent searches.
The pricing engine PriceGrabber also has an iPhone app with a bar-code scanner; if you’re looking for gift suggestions, you can try its gift feature, which searches for items that match your criteria for category and budget. (Full disclosure: PriceGrabber provides online pricing technology for Macworld.) RedLaser matches bar-code scanning with Google shopping searches.
For more season-specific sales advice, you can check out Black Friday Wish: You tell it the stuff you’re looking for, and the app then scans online sales for the best deals.
Mobile coupon apps such as GeoQpons are designed to get you into brick-and-mortar stores in your area. Like the others, this iPhone app lists coupons from major retailers and then shows you the nearest outlets. But be warned: While you’ll find a number of mobile coupon apps in the iTunes app store, a lot of them have negative reviews from users who say merchants didn’t accept the coupons.
You might also want to check out the free apps that major retailers offer. Best Buy, Target, and Amazon all have iPhone apps of their own that show promotions and prices. And, yes, there’s an Apple Store app to keep you apprised of Mac, iPhone, and iPad offers.
Black Friday online
These iPhone apps can be really helpful when you’re in a store and want to be sure you’re getting the best price you can. However, the Web can help you do a lot of that groundwork before you hit the mall.
Particularly useful at this time of year is dealnews.com, though it tracks deals year round. (Its current slogan: “Where every day is Black Friday.”) It also has a Black Friday app called, simply enough, Black Friday App. It lets you check out Black Friday deals by store or product categories. But the site also has a news feed—a sort of ticker of deal postings rated for “hotness”—and a Mac-specific subsection called dealmac.com.
BlackFriday.fm also has an iPhone app, which brings you ads sorted by store or category. But what I like best about the site is its list of current top deals in each product category.
I’m also a big fan of BFAds, a seasonal site that posts ads and helpful commentary from Webmaster Michael Brim on the best deals in the ads (also available via e-mail). Year-round deal sites such as FatWallet and Slickdeals also have special Black Friday sections this time of year.
Lastly, sites such as CouponCabin and RetailMeNot collect and sort coupons and promotional codes for online shopping; I highly recommend checking one or two of these sites before you ever submit an order online: You’d be surprised at how often you can find a small discount or free shipping offer.
Yardena Arar is a freelance writer in San Francisco.