What Happens When Three Savvy Shoppers Hit the Mall, Smartphones in Hand

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During a six-hour shopping excursion in Dallas-area malls, three shoppers armed with three different smartphones—Android, Blackberry, iPhone—scan, search, and take advantage of every app under the sun on a two-prong online-real world quest for great gifts and the best prices. What do they find out? While smartphone-enhanced shopping comes with its share of frustrations (Droids don’t work in the Apple store! Argh!), smartphones brilliantly level the playing field and make it easy to instantly compare prices—and therefore, snag deals.

Here’s another revelation you probably already knew about: The stuff in Williams-Sonoma is way overpriced.

The Dallas Morning News tagged along with a trio of shoppers testing out just how helpful their smartphones and various apps would be on ventures inside stores such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Target, Best Buy, Sears, and yes, Williams-Sonoma and Apple.

The shoppers encounter some frustrations, such as the previously mentioned one at the Apple store, and at Macy’s and J.C. Penney:

the bar-code-reader apps don’t work because the UPC codes are store codes, not manufacturer codes. So there’s no way to comparison shop the Ralph Lauren or Nike windbreakers.

The bigger frustration for the long-endurance shopper is this:

Applications that search, scan and locate deals at nearby stores, generate lists of coupons or pinpoint your location to offer discounts at nearby stores burn battery time faster than talking and texting. Finding a signal in cavernous, multilevel department stores can be a problem, too.

Before noon, the Dallas shoppers had to take turns running back to the car to recharge their phones. The Blackberry user was particularly upset with how much battery was sucked away by using these apps—especially because many of them didn’t work on the Blackberry. (At the end of the story, by the way, each smartphone user names his or her favorite apps, which is helpful.)

Overall, saving money by comparison shopping with a smartphone is a cinch, especially in a store like Williams-Sonoma, where books and knives were being sold at prices much higher than consumers found elsewhere—as revealed by various apps, including RedLaser, ScanLife, and The Coupon App.

Here’s another example of how a consumer might overpay if he’d just headed to the store blindly like in ye olden times without a smartphone:

In Sears, both Google Shopper and the Sears2go apps produce big savings on a Sportscraft Interceptor 56-inch foosball table. The price in the store is $249.99, but the apps say the store price is $179.99. The clerk checks on the register and the $179.99 price turns out to be correct. Someone just forgot to mark the sale price on the foosball table. In fact, that day it was an additional 10 percent off, making it $161.99. On top of that discount, the clerk says shipping is free if you buy it in the store.

What this shopping venture shows is that heading to the mall without a smartphone, or at least without previously comparing prices online, is sorta dumb. For that matter, so’s the idea that you have to go to a store to get to what amounts to placing an online order for a deal on a foosball table.

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