Smart Phones Make Comparison Shopping A Snap

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Bargain hunting has never been easier. Several smart phone applications now allow users to type in a model or scan the bar code of a product, then search for a cheaper price online.

That's something that's hooked Greg Stevens on an iPhone application called Save Benjis. He says the program doesn't work as well on items that are hard to compare, like food or clothes, but he used it recently to get a deal on luggage. He also finagled a cheaper price on a washer and dryer by getting the store to match an online price, saving quite a few Benjis — or Benjamin Franklin-adorned $100 bills.

Other applications, like Shop Savvy or SnapTell, allow users to either take pictures of products or scan bar codes of products using the cameras on the iPhone or the Google-developed Android phone. There are other shopping search engines like PriceCheckah, and even online coupon services like Coupon Sherpa.

Doing this sort of thing used to require bringing along printouts. Now, Stevens says, he can do it on the fly.

"It kind of puts you in the driver's seat. I guess I like anything that gives you a little bit of an edge," he says.

But that's also forcing retailers like Best Buy to change the way they do business.

A fair number of people nowadays bargain with the store, based on prices they find online, says Luis Castillo, general manager of a Best Buy in Alexandria, Va.

Retailers don't want to become mere showrooms for online retailers, so Castillo says he's embracing the trend. If a consumer is hung up on buying an item, he tells them, "Let's go right now to a computer and check out our competitor's price."

Many times, he says his store's prices are in line with those found on the Web. But if they aren't, the store often matches the online price.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers still have a leg up on their Web rivals in one significant way, Castillo says. Many customers still want to touch and feel products — and they like the security of knowing that if the item doesn't work out, they can come in and return it right away.



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