Most marketers assume that a Gen X guy and his mom would shop in very different ways. But the benefits offered by the latest mobile phone software are blending those shopping methods by helping consumers of all types shop smarter.

So imagine: Eric Olson wanted a Blu-ray version of Heat, but at Best Buy, where he was shopping before Christmas, the disc cost $26, which seemed high to the 33-year-old consumer. Therefore, while still in Best Buy, he scanned the UPC barcode using his Android smartphone and visited the mobile application ShopSavvy to check the price of the disc at nearby stores. Walmart.com was charging only $19.

It is nothing new to check on prices online. It is the mobility of these checks that is really advancing the practice—and making some sellers really nervous. ShopSavvy locates nearby stores with a desired product but also list which ones are cheapest and closest. Users need to download these applications and provide basic information, such as their location and the items they want to buy. Some of the applications collect the information automatically by gathering location data from built-in GPS sensors and relying on cameras to scan bar codes.

ShopSavvy relies on a database that includes over 26,000 retailers and more than 1 million store locations such as Walmart, Target, American Eagle, Best Buy, and The Gap, as well as online-only retailers, like Amazon.com. Because these technologies still rely on the retailers’ websites or databases for pricing information, sometimes the details provided are a little out of date, especially if the retailer decides to change the price at the last minute.

Yet over 18 million people have downloaded the ShopSavvy application, and 9.3 million of them use it with some regularity. That equates to about 13 percent of the smartphone users in the United States. About half of all smartphone users research store prices and inventory on their phone.  If customers go find the best price on their own, how should retailers that cannot necessarily compete on price communicate directly with them?

What is ShopSavvy?

“ShopSavvy Mobile App Reaches 17.9 Million Total Downloads, 9.3 Million Unique Users,” Retailtouchpoints.com, May 10, 2011; Geoffrey A. Fowler and Yukari Iwatani Kane, “New Mobile Applications Use Bar-Code Scanners,” The Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2009;

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