Sunday, December 6, 2009
CONSUMER FINANCE: Online Tools To Make Holiday Shopping Easy
Written by Jennifer Openshaw
Posted by Minjune Kim
This holiday is all about finding the right present for the right price. Luckily, there are some new online tools to help you do just that. After all, if you're not careful, you may end up spending more time hunting for deals online than you would by simply heading to a discount warehouse and doing your shopping in one fell swoop.
And these tools are not just for young technology geeks. "An older woman sitting next to me was raving about new apps," says tech expert Omar Wasow, referring to applications that enable you to do a host of activities from your smart phone, including detecting a police car or conducting a stock trade.
"She was exhibiting the same behavior as nerdy boys. Apps have gotten so easy to use that you see a much broader swath of the population using them," he said.
But before I share these new apps--plus seven other useful online tools that don't require a smart phone--let me remind you of the most important holiday shopping tip: Make a list and check it twice, and set a budget or the holidays won't be so nice.
OK, now for some top tips from Santa and the elves:
1. Coupon clipping the e-way
Most of you know you can head to Apple's store for a host of iPhone apps. Now, there's an app that allows you to get coupons in your area. Say you're looking to buy Nintendo's Wii. With the free Yowza!! coupons app, you'll discover which stores have the best prices within, say, a 15-mile radius of your home. Once in the checkout line, the agent will scan a barcode on your cell phone, avoiding the dreaded coupon clipping.
"If I'm at the mall, I may use my Yowza!! feature and see if there's a better deal up to 15 miles around," Wasow says. "It might be 10% or 15% off at a nearby store, and that can make the difference."
The RedLaser app allows you to scan an item's barcode--say, a DVD player--and get instant access to prices online. You can also scan items and send them to yourself to view later on a larger screen.
2. Be a fan for savings
Retailers are now turning to social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to market special deals and, at the same time, test these new marketing tools. "You can search for your favorite retailer on Facebook and join their fan page," says Michelle Madhok, founder of SheFinds.com. "They'll release special deals, and hot items will then show up in your news feed when you log into Facebook."
3. Price alerts
Serious investors know they can set up alerts for stock price gains or drops. Now, you can do the same for electronics, clothes and other gifts on your list, receiving instant alerts in your inbox when an item's price drops. Shopstyle.com offers sale alerts for fashion items and Pricespider.com does the same for electronics.
4. Visit the online 'dollar store'
A big part of Overstock.com's business, Madhok says, is selling items not sold elsewhere, sort of like the online version of the dollar store. While the products can really range in quality, you can buy last year's items--say an iPod--at huge discounts of 50% or more. And many recent book titles can be had for $1, cheaper than Amazon.
5. Bank and save
Look to your bank for special offers. Bank of America Corp. (BAC) is among those with a shopping program designed to encourage customers to use their debit cards. With the "Add It Up" program, you can shop for products through any of the 300 listed retailers, buy at the discounted holiday price if available, and receive up to 20% cash back on your purchase.
Many banks, such as Wells Fargo & Co., also offer tools to manage your expenses in real-time, so check them out so you avoid that holiday debt hangover.
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