Save time and money: shop smarter with your iPad or iPhone
2nd Feb 2013 | 10:00
Save yourself time and money
Shopping divides us. It's either a necessary evil to be endured as infrequently as possible, or a fun leisure activity to be stretched out over the course of an entire Saturday.
If you're in the former camp, you'll want to do as much of it as possible from the comfort of your sofa. Thankfully there are hundreds of apps to help. Whether its the weekly groceries, a new TV or an entire room's worth of furniture, you can buy anything you need with a few taps on an iPad's screen.
If you view shopping as a leisure pursuit rather than a chore, there are plenty of apps to help you make it even more fun.
Find the best prices before you leave home, grab a bargain, get rewarded just for visiting a shop, and book a restaurant for lunch with a friend afterwards - it can all be done from your iPhone.
Online shopping is all very well, but you can't shop for everything from your sofa. And let's face it, shopping trips to the high street or out-of-town shopping centre can be, er, fun. Sometimes. The key to taking the stress out of a trip to the shops is planning. That means deciding where you're going to go, how you're going to get there and what you're going to buy. OK, you don't need military precision, but having a fair idea has to help. Right?
Of course, planning means lists. There are several apps specifically designed to help you make lists for grocery shopping; Groceries (£1.49, iPhone and iPod touch), for example, lets you choose specific goods from a pre-populated database and save them for later. You can can also share lists with friends and family members.
OurGroceries (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) is less structured, allowing you to choose generic categories like 'bread' and 'milk'. Again, you can share your lists with friends. ShopShop (Free, Universal) is the simplest of the lot, allowing you just to create basic lists.
However, our favourite is Clear (69p, iPhone and iPod touch). It's not aimed at shopping particularly, but is a great way to create lists of any type and works very well for groceries.
You could also use the Reminders app to maintain a shopping list and share it. Create a new list in iCloud, hover over its name and tap the wireless icon on the right, then enter the email address of the person with whom you want to share it. That way you can both update and check it whenever you go shopping.
Getting to your favourite shopping centre can be stressful on its own. Luckily, there are several apps to help. If you're travelling by train, National Rail Enquiries (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) or UK Train Times (£4.99, iPhone and iPod touch) will help you decide which one to get. NextBuses (69p, Universal) will help if you want to travel by bus and live in England, Scotland or Wales.
RingGo (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) lets you find local car parks and pay for your parking within the app. It doesn't cover every car park in the country, but does have 4,000 sites in its database, so it's worth checking to see whether there are any near where you'll be shopping. At the very least, it will save you having to search your pockets for coins to fill the machine once you've parked.
Before you head into the high street, download Quidco (Free, iPhone, iPod touch). As well as finding special offers at local shops and restaurants, it lets you earn rewards simply for 'checking in' to a store while you're out and about. If you register a credit or debit card with the app, you can also earn cashback when you use it to pay while you're shopping.
Once you've downloaded Quidco, grab Stocard (Free, iPhone and iPod touch). This handy app allows you to scan your loyalty cards and store them on your phone.
That way when you go to the till, assuming the store has an image scanner (most do), you can use the app instead of carrying the card with you. It has 200-odd preset loyalty cards, and if it doesn't have yours, you can add it manually.
For fashion shoppers in the US, Swirl (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) is essential. It allows you to browse clothes and accessories from fashion retailers, keep up to date with the latest trends, and, best of all, find out where they're on sale. Start before you go and make a list of possible purchases. Then, when you're out, you can open the app and find out which stores stock each item on the list. It's a personal shopper on your iPhone.
If you're anything like us, once you've found something you want to buy, your next question isn't 'where's the till?', it's 'if I buy this now, will I find it cheaper somewhere else later?'
You can eliminate that doubt by using RedLaser - Barcode Scanner (Free, iPhone and iPod touch). Fire up the app, scan the barcode on whatever it is that's making your credit card quiver, and it will tell you where in the local area you can buy it for less.
You can also read reviews, find deals and coupons, and order online for delivery if that works out cheaper. If you happen to be in one of RedLaser's partner stores, such as Best Buy, you can find in-store deals and promotions, plus prices for open-box items.
If RedLaser can't find the item, try ShopSavvy (Free, Universal). It claims to be the 'fastest, most accurate and most comprehensive scanner around.'
If you find that another store nearby is selling the item for less, don't leave the shop immediately. Ask to speak to the manager, show them that you can buy it cheaper elsewhere, and ask whether they're willing to match or improve upon that price.
Even if the store doesn't have an official price-matching policy, the manager might well agree to your request to stop you heading off and giving your money to a competitor.
If you're heading to the supermarket to buy your weekly groceries, Love Food Hate Waste (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) is brilliant. The idea behind it is that by buying only the food you need, you avoid unnecessary waste. Simple, right? It is with this app. The portion planner tells you exactly how much of each ingredient you need to make the included recipes, and the in-built shopping list helps you plan exactly what you need to buy. By combining the recipes, portion planner and shopping list, you make sure that you buy exactly what you need and no more, thus eliminating waste.
By now it's 11am and you must be feeling peckish; that means it's coffee time. That could mean calling on the excellent Starbucks UK (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) app. It allows you to find out where your nearest Starbucks is, discover everything you could want to know about its coffee, and check your Starbucks Card balance. You can re-load it too, if necessary. If you're in the UK or US, you can bypass the app and use your Starbucks Card from Passbook.
If Starbucks isn't your thing, AroundMe (Free, Universal) will help you find the nearest coffee shop or cafe. In fact, it will help you find the nearest anything you can imagine. Not only that, but it will direct you there from your current location, and if you're in the US, you can even use it to make a restaurant reservation - although that might be a little over the top for morning coffees.
Refuelled? Good. Fancy going to a gig tonight? The Ticketmaster UK (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) app lets you easily see what concerts are scheduled nearby, and allows you to buy last-minute tickets, if there are any available.
StubHub Tickets (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) does a similar job in both the UK and US.
And EventBrite (Free, iPhone and iPod touch), which also works in both the US and UK, allows you to store tickets in Passbook.
If there are no tickets, Seatwave Tickets (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) is one of the biggest on both sides of the Atlantic, and its app allows you to access its network of sellers. Its clever dynamic seating maps allow you to see exactly where in a venue you'll be sitting.
If you'd rather take in a movie than a concert or a play, Cinema Times, UK (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) allows you to see what films are showing in the cinemas closest to you. You can search for specific movies, read reviews, check times and buy tickets.
In the US, Showtimes (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) does a similar job, and will also give you directions to the cinema.
And if you're in Australia, My Cinema (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) has details of films showing at independent cinemas all over the country. Alternatively, both Hoyts and Event Cinemas have their own apps: Hoyts Movie App (Free, Universal) and Pocket Cinema (Free, Universal).
If you're in the UK and you know that you want to go to a Vue (Free, iPhone and iPod touch), Odeon (Free, iPhone and iPod touch), or Cineworld (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) cinema, you can download their own app. And if you're an Orange customer, you'll want the Orange Wednesdays (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) app, too.
Finally, if you've been shopping all day and then had a quick bite to eat before the cinema, you might find yourself having to answer a call of nature during the movie (yes, you should have gone in the foyer; no, not literally in the foyer; you know what we mean).
RunPee (Free, Universal) is an ingenious app that has details of the latest cinema release and tells you the best time during the movie to visit the bathroom. That way you'll never miss any action because you had to, well, run pee.
Did someone say lunch? If it's a restaurant you're after, Urbanspoon (Free, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) will do the job. Whether you're in the UK, US, Canada or Australia, just fire up the app, shake your iPhone, and it will suggest a restaurant near you. You can then make a booking on the spot.
If you'd rather be more involved in the decision-making process, you can search local eateries and filter the results by type of cuisine, locality or price. And, of course, you can read reviews from critics or other diners.
Rather eat somewhere a little less formal? McDonald's (Free, iPhone and iPod touch)? PizzaExpress (Free, iPhone and iPod touch)? Nando's (Free, Universal)? There are apps for all of those, each of which will tell you the location of your nearest restaurant and, in the case of PizzaExpress, give you the option of booking a table and accessing special offers.
If you can't decide what to go for, Fast Food UK (69p, Universal) will point you to your nearest McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut or Domino's.
When it's time to go home and you wish you'd brought the car rather than taken the bus, you might decide to treat yourself to a cab. If you're in London, Black Cabs (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) will allow you to hail a cab and pay for it using PayPal.
And if you're in London, Dublin or Toronto, Hailo (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) will have a cab with you in two taps of your iPhone's screen. Hailo is hoping to launch soon in New York, Chicago and Boston, too.
If you're in Washington DC or Sydney, Australia, myTaxi (Free, Universal) will help get you home.
If you've already over-spent on your day out, then you might have to walk home. Sadly, there's no app for that.
It's hard to imagine that a little more than a decade ago, shopping from home meant picking up a heavy catalogue, wading through hundreds of glossy pages, then picking up the phone and speaking to an operator. If you ever tried doing weekly supermarket shop that way, you'll know what a frustrating experience it was.
Now, of course, shopping from home means sitting on your sofa with an iPad, iPhone or laptop, and surfing hundreds of stores. And thanks to iOS, there's no need to even open a web browser. Most large stores, and plenty of smaller ones have their own app.
Amazon was the first to really take the internet by the horns and exploit it as a means to shop from home. So it's no surprise that its app, Amazon Windowshop (Free, iPad), is among the best available. It allows you to easily switch between Amazon country-specific stores, view products by category, or search for them.
When you've found what you were looking for, you can read details and reviews, and see related items. And when you're ready to buy, you can use 1-Click or add the item to your basket. If you've recently added something to your basket while logged into Amazon on another device or computer, that will show up in your basket in the app. And as well as ordering products by sales, you can rank them by the most wished for, most gifted, and by the most recently released.
The other great bastion of online commerce is eBay, and its eBay for iPad (Free, iPad) app is every bit as impressive as you would expect. It makes full use of the iPad's spacious screen, and provides easy access to your buying, selling and watching lists. It even displays thumbnails of popular items based on what you've watched, bought and sold in recent months.
Perhaps the best thing about the eBay app, however, is that it takes the pain out of listing your own items for sale. Scan the barcode of the item you want to sell, and eBay will populate its details automatically. If it doesn't have one, adding them manually is easy, too. You can also add images from your Library or directly from the camera. eBay for iPhone (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) isn't quite as impressive for browsing due to the smaller screen, but is equally good for listing items for auction.
Grocery shopping online tends to split opinion. You either love the convenience and the fact that it keeps you out of the supermarket, or don't trust the store's own pickers to choose your meat, fruit and veg for you. If you're in the former camp, there are plenty of apps to help.
Which you choose will be dictated by your preferred supermarket, but of the apps themselves, Tesco (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) has a slight edge in the UK over Asda (Free, iPhone and iPod touch), Sainsbury's (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) and Ocado (Free, Universal).
All four apps allow you to browse, search, and order items for delivery. You can book and amend time slots too, and Asda, Tesco, and Sainsbury's allow you to search for your nearest stores. Asda also allows you to search for items by scanning a barcode and to use its price match guarantee service.
Tesco, however, adds the ability to order from Tesco Direct as well, and, crucially, to store your Tesco Clubcard details so you use your iPhone in-store rather than having to remember to take your the card itself. If you want to use a Nectar card in Sainsbury's with your iPhone, you'll have to download the Nectar app. Ocado does have the benefit of being a Universal app, and therefore takes advantage of the iPad's bigger screen.
Clothes shopping online is a world away from the experience of the high street. You can't feel the fabric or try garments on to see how they look, but stores such as Asos (Free, Universal), Debenhams (Free, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), Oasis Fashion (Free, iPhone and iPod touch), and La Redoute (Free, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) have done their best to compensate by providing the ability to view clothes at very high resolutions so you can see the weave of the fabric and details such as neck and hem lines.
Asos, in particular, has done a good job of making the most of the iPad and iPhone screens in its app, changing the available views depending on whether you're in landscape or portrait mode. You can sync your account with a web browser, so any items you've added to your shopping bag or saved for later show up in the app. And you can save searches, too. You can also view your nearest drop-off and collection points on a map.
Debenhams' app includes fashion tips, style advice and a gift guide, as well as videos featuring its product range. And, of course, you can browse its catalogue, search for items, and order online for delivery or collection at your nearest store.
If it's home furnishings you're after, and you tend to shop at Ikea, you'll want the Ikea app (Free, Universal). It allows you to download the current Ikea catalogue for whatever country you're in, as well as specific catalogues for bedroom, office and so on. You can browse the catalogue, search for items, view details and order online. And if you have a paper copy of the catalogue, scanning specially-labelled pages with your iPhone or iPad will allow you to access additional photographs and videos.
The M&S Home (Free, iPad) app is a beautifully-photographed catalogue of M&S's range of furniture and furnishings. You can bookmark pages, create lists of ideas, and buy online from within the app.
Before you buy furniture, however, download SnapShop Showroom (Free, Universal). This clever app allows you to choose furniture from its library and then super-impose it on the image from your iPhone or iPad camera, so you can get an idea of how that three-seater sofa will look in your living room.
You can't buy a house online, but you can search your local property market, see photos, details, and floorplans, and book appointments to take a look round in person.
In the UK, the Rightmove (Free, Universal) app does a great job, allowing you to specify the area you want to search, your price range, the type of property you want, and how recently it was listed. Photos can be viewed full-screen as a slideshow, and an integrated map shows you exactly where the property is.
In the US, the Realtor (Free, Universal) app allows you to see homes for sale in your local area, as well as those recently sold. You can draw your search area on a map on-screen and use the Area Scout tool to see average values in a neighbourhood. Property listings are updated at least once a day, and most every 15 minutes.
Finally, whatever you buy online and wherever you choose to buy it, waiting for delivery is frustrating. Make sure you download package-tracking app Delivery Status Touch (£2.99, Universal).
It allows you to track the progress of deliveries from dozens of different couriers, including FedEx, UPS, and TNT.
Type in the tracking number provided by, say, Amazon or Apple, and Delivery Status Touch will display your package's current location on a Google Map.
It will also give you an expected delivery date, and a link to the shipping company's website in case you have any questions or concerns.
Tracking down bargains is half the fun of shopping, and if you have your iPhone with you when you hit the high street, it will be much easier. There are numerous apps designed to help you find the best prices and take advantage of deals offered by retailers.
We've already seen how RedLaser helps you track down the best online price for a product you've found on the shelves, but it can do a great deal more than that.
The app also lets you find coupons and voucher codes for the product whose barcode you've scanned, track down the best price at a local shop, see daily deals, and find products that are popular with other RedLaser users.
It will even suggest items based on those you've searched for before. As long as you don't mind holding your iPhone up to the barcode of, say, a DVD or book, it's a great way to save money.
Vouchercloud (Free, Universal) only works in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Malta, but it allows you to find local shops, restaurants and venues that are running promotions, and to download vouchers directly to the app or use them immediately.
You can view offers by geographical proximity or by type (eating, retail, leisure, days out and so on). The app will then learn your preferences from vouchers you use and, suggest more special offers that might interest you.
MyVoucherCodes Vouchers (free, iPhone and iPod touch) does more or less the same thing.
It's slightly more polished and shows local deals on a map rather than as a list, but you can't access saved deals from a web browser on another device as you can with Vouchercloud.
ValPack Local Savings (Free, Universal) allows you to find deals at local retailers.
Groupon (Free, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) allows you to access the crowd-buying service from your iPhone or iPad, and will send new deals to you each morning.
It covers both regular Groupon offers and the Getaways travel bargains. You can buy deals and redeem them within the apps, and keep track of those you've purchased but not yet used.
If daily deals are your thing, you should also try LivingSocial (Free, Universal). It's more geared towards restaurants, bars, and days out than tangible goods, but if that's your thing, it'll send you a local deal every day.
For loyalty card lovers in the UK, the Nectar (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) app is essential. It will show you which retailers in your area give Nectar points, display daily deals, award you bonus points, and let you check your balance.
ShopSavvy (Free, Universal) is similar to RedLaser. It works in North America and Europe, and allows you to scan barcodes to find the best price locally or online. Cleverly, it also lets you add details to its database if it doesn't have a record of the code you scan - and if you find a better deal than those in the app, you can add that, too. It helps you find voucher codes as well, and lets you see price-matching policies, enter contests and check stock.
Finally, mySupermarket Mobile (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) allows UK shoppers to see which supermarkets are running deals on your weekly regulars. Scan a barcode or check your saved shopping list to find out where you'll save the most.
The idea that we should be able to pay for goods and services in shops without having to carry money has been around for decades, but we're still stuck with cash and plastic. The Passbook app in iOS is a pointer to where Apple might be headed, though. It lets you store tickets, boarding passes, loyalty cards and vouchers to display when you need them, so you no longer have to carry physical copies.
So far support is limited, especially outside the US, but Apple hopes developers and merchants will take full advantage of it in the future.
Passbook is currently not really a payment system, though. Will we ever use our iPhone or iPod touch to hand over our cash? Apple seems to think so. It has already introduced a system in its own stores, called EasyPay, which allows you to scan the barcode of some products in-store, then log in with your Apple ID, pay with the stored credit card and collect your purchase before leaving the store. So far, however, it's restricted to Apple's own retail stores.
Square, co-founded by Twitter's Jack Dorsey, has a card reader that plugs into the audio jack of a mobile device to accept payments, and Square Wallet allows customers to make payments using a smartphone.
SagePay is trialling a similar solution in the UK that would let shops accept chip and pin payments on mobile devices like smartphones, and Barclays PingIt (Free, iPhone and iPod touch) allows you to send money to anyone using a mobile phone number. These systems, however, still require you to queue at a checkout in order to make a payment in a shop. If mobile payments are to work efficiently, they need to eliminate that step.
Much has been made in recent years of a technology called near field communication (NFC) - a short-range wireless system that lets customers use smartphones to make payments at NFC-enabled tills.
Google Wallet, for example, lets users store credit card details and then use those through a specially-created pre-paid MasterCard to pay for goods. There's no global standard for NFC, however, which makes rolling out universal payment systems tricky. Also, in order for it to work, shops have to install NFC-enabled payment points.
That's expensive and there is little incentive for them to do so. There appears to be no great demand from consumers, perhaps because the extra convenience of swiping a phone at a reader rather than a credit card is minimal. And the single most popular smartphone on the planet, the iPhone, doesn't support NFC.
If not NFC, then what? Cloud-based payments could use Bluetooth 4 to link to a store's payment system. You would scan the item you want with your phone, tap 'Buy' and be connected. You'd still need some way to transfer money, of course.
That could be where Apple comes in. It already holds millions of credit card details in iTunes, and allowing third parties to deduct payments from your iTunes account shouldn't be too difficult. Indeed, Apple has applied for a patent - called iWallet - for just such a system.