The Cell Phone App That's Saving Me A Small Fortune

by Paul Michael on 14 December 2009 23 comments
Photo: Big In Japan

Recently, I upgraded to my  very first smartphone. And, being the frugal shopper that I am, I quickly searched for the best apps I could find that would help me save money. I was lucky enough to come across Shop Savvy the same day I bought the phone, and so far, it has saved me hundreds of dollars.

I wasn't entirely convinced that the app could do all that it said it could. I was quite happy to be proven wrong. Basically, Shop Savvy is a small app that utilizes the camera in your cell phone, turning it into a barcode scanner. You hold the phone in front of a bar code, and a few seconds later the phone has scanned the item, searched the web and produced a whole list of prices for the item in question. Here's a demo.

 (direct link)

I put this to use on Black Friday, when deals where everywhere...but so was the hype. I'm something of a skeptic when it comes to Black Friday anyway. I know there are genuine deals, but there are also some stores out there looking to monopolize on the hysteria and off-load some old stock for less than competitive prices.

My first stop was Best Buy. My wife and I saw an amazing deal on a 42" Sony LCD TV. It had been marked down by several hunred dollars. I took out the phone, used Shop Savvy, and a few seconds later I was presented with a list of prices, organized from low to high. The price in Best Buy was the best. But, by just $10. When I figured into the equation the fact that I'd have to pay tax on the Best Buy purchase, but not on the online version, I was better off buying online. I also found a rebate and a coupon, making it an even bigger steal. Shop Savvy stopped my spending a total of $90 more for a TV that was supposedly an amazing, unbeatable value.

We did the rounds on printers, blu-ray players, appliances and smaller items like DVDs and CDs. When Shop Savvy couldn't come close, we knew the Black Friday deal was indeed a steal. When Shop Savvy was beating it be tens, or even hundreds, of dollars, we walked away.

After Black Friday, the app has still been a terrific tool in my shopping arsenal. Best Buy once again tempted me with an incredible deal — a 42"Panasonic Plasma, complete with an XBOX 360, Avater game, controller and a few other extras...all for $699.99, over $400 off retail. Wow! We didn't really want the XBOX 360, but at this price, we could buy the whole package, resell the XBOX and make a killing.

But, I wanted to do some checking. Shop Savvy came to the rescue and I discovered the the plasma TV in question was available for $499.99 online. The XBOX 360, $199.99. And the game and accessories, around $100 all in. That's a saving of $100 for the whole package with Best Buy, which is a good deal...but it wasn't worth it for us. We thought we were saving over $400, according to the Best Buy original price. Saving just $100 meant that we could rethink the steal, and reconsider if we really did want plasma or LCD.

Shop Savvy doesn't always work. Sometimes it cannot find a bar code in the system. Sometimes, it takes a while to scan, or you have to manually type in the model number. But it's quick, it's free and it's one of the best price comparison tools I've ever used. Having a tool like this in your pocket gives you the confidence to know when a deal is actually the real deal, or just some over-inflated pricing to try and grab your money while your head spins in a deal frenzy. If you have a smart phone, be it an iPhone, Behold 2, Droid or anything else, I strongly suggest downloading Shop Savvy today. It could be the best free app you ever install.

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Guest's picture

That is a fascinationg app, scanning the barcode. Imagine the possibilities!

John DeFlumeri Jr

Guest's picture
Clayton

If this works for groceries too, then this has got to be one of the best apps ever!

Guest's picture
David C

My wife downloaded this a few weeks ago after seeing a co-worker displaying it. It was a novelty at first, but it rapidly turned into a nifty tool for comparing prices.

Guest's picture
Kim

Best. Ever. Sometimes I get into a store & all of the numbers fly out of my head, esp. comparing a myriad of items, like at grocery stores.

Guest's picture
JThompson

I'd be interested in a follow up post if/when you ever use it for price matching.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I reviewed Shop Savvy for a tech site a few months back, but sadly it was only available on the Android platform.  So glad that I can now use it with my iPhone.  I love this app, too!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
KateMTP

I am so excited about this app. I remember one of my co-workers telling me about this when he tried the google phone from T-mobile. I just checked and it is available on the iphone as well. Soon to be mine you little pretty...

Guest's picture
kylydia

Most likely, your state expects you to self-report and pay use tax on the item you bought online. This doesn't make it as great a steal, but it could be useful as far as cash flow goes.

Guest's picture

is there something like this that actually runs an inventory? I'm one of these rabid couponers who has amassed a stockpile of "deals" from cutting coupons and shopping store circular deals, but I sometimes forget what I then have in the stockpile and either run out of something thinking I have it or don't remember so buy it again. Rather than compiling and maintaining a spreadsheet, I figured a barcode scanner-based inventory app would be so cool :) Just wondering if it maybe already exists...

Guest's picture
Evan

You being a "Frugal Shopper" can you tell me a little about your phone plan. I have a smart phone (windows based) and I am dying to justify the upgrade to the Android but it would jack my phone bill up $30/month

Paul Michael's picture

and the best I could do was $24.99/month for data. I'm afraid it's something I couldn't really get them to budge on.

Guest's picture

This sounds great, but your review only highlighted the money saved on electronics. Has anyone ever used this for clothing, groceries, or other purchases?

Guest's picture
JThompson

We used this app when we were in the big box store for home improvement supplies. We checked alternative pricing for tile and supplies. In the end, we purchased as we would have otherwise.

We also used it for flea treatment medication for our pet. There was the brand name box sitting beside a no-name box. The no-name brand was considerably cheaper at 25% of the price. I did not recognize the active ingredient names though. I scanned the no-name brand and drilled down to learn about the ingredients. It directly decided my purchase decision. My point is that it enabled basic research on the product, in store. This was great when I was presented with a situation I could not know to research first at home.

Guest's picture

Interesting app that works well with electronics. The issue that I see with it for things like groceries is that you aren't likely to leave the store for a 20 cent difference from a store a mile away. The other problem is how many items in a grocery store are you going to scan and how long is that going to take. Electronics make perfect sense especially with the option to buy right on your phone from someone like NewEgg or Amazon.

The sales tax differential plus free shipping makes almost no in store shopping worth it for things like electronics. There is seldom a retail electronics deal that is priced 9% lower than the best online price. But I guess its a good way to see if you are getting a good price as opposed to the lowest price. My guess is where this would have the most value is in things like appliances where you want to know if you are getting a decent price but want local delivery and service plan.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have found the best deals to be in the "scratch and dent" of our local Sears (especially for washers, dryers, microwaves, etc.) and the items are almost always new and just open box returns. I agree with the comment on online purchases always beating brick and mortar retailers (although sometimes it can just be a brick and mortar store in another state). ymmv

Guest's picture

I think the technology is fantastic, but I will echo some of the other comments above in saying that this only works well in certain situations--for example, on Black Friday, or if you're a compulsive electronics shopper (which I used to be).

When we buy anything over $50 these days, it's usually accompanied by days of online research first. There is no "in the store" decision. So in our case, this app would be woefully under-used.

Having said that, I think the potential here is incredible for this and future apps, and I'm excited to see what innovative people will come up with next!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I think you can get more mileage from an app like this, depending on where you live.  I'm currently about 40 minutes from the nearest metro area, and can drive 35 minutes in two other directions to get to some larger towns with big-box stores.  For me, comparison shopping is not something I want to do in store -- I have to guarantee the lowest price before I make the drive (and ad-matching isn't an option when you're dealing with completely different geographic locations, and in some instances different states!)  This app is great for me, because I have to get a product somewhere.  It just points me in the direction I need to drive (north, south, or southwest.)  Saves gas money, time, and frustration to know ahead of time, especially since online comparison engines haven't been as accurate.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
BT

we have been using this app for a year. definitely a must-have!

Guest's picture

I think the potential here is incredible for this and future apps

Guest's picture

celphone App will be more and more important in our life, we can use it to look for place, search the Internet and so on.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am so excited about this app.

Guest's picture

I use it with my iPhone now. I love this app, too!

Guest's picture

is there something like this that actually runs an inventory? I'm one of these rabid couponers who has amassed a stockpile of "deals" from cutting coupons and shopping store circular deals