Black Friday 2010: Year of the shopping app

We're heading for the holiday season and it looks like this year we'll be worrying about money a little, so I thought readers may find it helpful if I assembled a short (and incomplete -- please contribute below to help other readers) list of apps which might (might) help you pick up a bargain or one of those elusive but sometimes fantastic 'Black Friday' deals -- or perhaps just help you distinguish between a good deal and good marketing.

Black Friday App (free)

The Good: This app will deliver all the latest deals from Deal News, who as everyone who knows stuff knows do a good job of connecting eagle-eyed readers to, as the name promises us, good deals.

The app takes it a step further -- you can take a look at those official ads and also keep yourself up-to-date with the latest news and data. (You get leaked deals too). There's search, sharing and shopping list tools.

The bad? These are all the latest deals from people in position to spread info about them around. Whatever happened to retail?

RedLaser (free)

Ah, retail, I remember this. RedLaser is quite clever -- it is a real time scanner in your iPhone.

Here's how it works: you're wandering around looking out for a deal, and you come across an item you like. Wave your iPhone coquettishely (or in another manner, should you so choose) in order to scan the product's barcode, and, "boom", you'll get price comparisons....

Find a better price? You can shoot across to the online store of the price-winning shop and buy it there.

The app polls results from the (not always perfect) Google Product Search (US & UK), TheFind Product Search, eBay and Half.com. Oh, by the way, you can also use this tool to take a quick look at reviews of the product to help inform your buying decision.

Sccope (£1.19)

Like RedLaser and for the UK, Sccope uses the iPhone's barcode scanning ability and has been well-received by iTunes users. You can check a product by scanning the barcode or typing in its name and the data comes from a firm called Cogenta. That firm is basically making available the data it gathers in its business providing pricing information to retailers and others. It also pools in data from Google product search. And one more thing -- it will let you know when prices drop, and deliver you a few coupons when you need them.

(If you use an Android phone and perhaps stumbled across this place, then you may like Google Shopper, which offers similar features).


Layar
(free)
Shopping is hard work. You walk mean streets. You get tired. You get thirsty. You feel your money disappear. You get irritable.

Layar is your friend.

Point it at something and it will take a look at the place using your iPhone's camera and GPS. It will poll lots of information which it will display on your screen. This could be bar or coffee shop recommendations, coupons for use at local shops, eating houses and so on, history, and lots of other topics, just choose what you want. In theory (at least) you'll never be lost again.

Hopefully.

eBay (free)
This is eBay, on your mobile. Never lose an auction again. Watch what you're selling, bid for stuff and browse for things you (or a friend or family member) may like. What else needs to be said?

Apple Store
(free)
An example of an app which basically simply replicates traditional retail this offers all the fun of Apple's online store, with the added capacity to reserve products for later pick-up, Genius Bar reservations, join workshop sessions, and more.

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I realise this is just a short little list. It suggests a sampling of conventional retail, price comparison, local recommendations, the world's most popular auction site and augmented reality apps. And that's even before you start exploring individual retailer apps, shopping list and grocery apps. There's a surfeit of apps like this around at the moment.

The reason for this is developers know that lots of people shop, so it is clearly seen as a business opportunity, a chance to monetize sundry affiliates deals. However, stop for a moment -- I think this represents more than just that.

The variety of different approaches tell us that developers are experimenting to find ways to make it easier for us all to get the best deal.

The ambition must be one in which at one future point you'll be able to type the name of a product you want into your iPhone, in order to receive a list of where that product is available near where you are; for how much, and if there's bargains to be had further afield. And this list will poll every available retailer. That is the theory, at least.

The danger is that such data becomes a commodity in itself. Also, smaller retailers capable of offering great deals may be unable to deliver information into these price comparison systems. We'll see how this pans out, but it would be nice to encourage more diversity in online and offline retail.

Please feel free to share apps you might find helpful this shopping season in comments below. As I see it, a tough economy means we need to help each other become tough customers. I look forward to taking a look at the best apps you suggest.

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