Using Your Phone to Shop Smarter


Last weekend, I went to a local computer specialty store to research a few items that I need to buy. I was surprised by how helpful my phone was in researching not only price, but other factors that went into my purchase decisions as well.

What I Was Looking For

I went into the store to look into buying three products. First, I needed a 2GB DDR2 laptop RAM upgrade for my netbook, next I looked into buying a new modem/router for my DSL internet, and third I looked into buying a network hard drive for redundant backup and media storage at home.

Going into the store, I had a rough idea of what the RAM should cost, but didn’t know much about the other two products.

Employees are Helpful

For the RAM, I knew exactly what I needed. I didn’t need any help deciding on the lowest cost ($25) 2GB DDR2 RAM upgrade. The price was very competitive compared to online retailers. I also know my way around the RAM aisle so picking a brand (go with the lowest cost, they are pretty much all the same) is not difficult.

When I went to look at the new modem/router, I needed help. I did research online, but CenturyLink makes it difficult to know which modems will actually work for their service. Of course, they want you to buy the Actiontec PK5000 from them, which costs more than anywhere else. Talking to a salesman at the store, I found out that MicroCenter, the store I was at, carried three other DSL all-in-one modem/router combos. I am replacing my Actiontec PK5000 because it is a piece of crap, so I had to ask for help on what would work for me.

After getting a lesson in the options, I pulled out my trusty phone and opened the Amazon.com app. I scanned away and was brought to the landing page for the router I had in mind. I was pleased to see that it cost $50 less and saw that the reviews were spot on to what I heard from the salesman. I also scanned it with Google Goggles to find outside reviews and pricing.

Sometimes, The Web is More Helpful

I made my way over to the external hard drive section and started looking into the wireless network hard drives. I asked another sales rep, who seemed helpful, and was told about the benefits, features, and reliability of the brands carried at the store.

After picking his brain for a few minutes, I learned that the more expensive brands were more reliable, which would not have shocked me. Before I trusted him, though, I wanted to do my own research. I pulled out my phone and scanned the boxes for the one that I was told was the best and the one that was cheapest.

To my surprise, the “best option” was not rated all that highly in consumer reviews. The cheapest option was $60 cheaper than Amazon.com and had fewer ratings, but they were more positive than the “better” brand.

For less than the one he suggested, and less than Amazon.com charges, I had a highly rated 2TB network hard drive in front of me. Because it is an expensive purchase and one that is not urgent, I decided to hold off on both the hard drive and router for my two-week impulse spending rule.

Lessons Learned

  • Sales reps are usually very helpful, particularly when you are learning about a new product. However, still do your own research before buying.
  • The web is often the cheapest place to buy, but not always.
  • Don’t just look at price; look for quality and features as well.
  • For some purchases, it is not worth saving $2 to buy online.
  • The big box store is not dead. Yet.

How Do You Shop?

What methods do you use to make sure you get a high quality product at the best possible price? Do you research at home and then go to the store? Do you go to the store armed with a great smart phone app to assist? Please share your strategies and stories in the comments.

Image Joe+Jeanette Archie/flickr

15 thoughts on “Using Your Phone to Shop Smarter”

  1. I tend research at home before I go shopping. I need to since I do not have a smartphone. It keeps me discipline and more in control of my expenses.

    1. I tend research at home before I go shopping. I need to since I do not have a smartphone. It keeps me discipline and more in control of my expenses.

  2. John at Married with Debt

    I’ve noticed lately that I often whip out my smartphone in a store to check a price. Amazon will actually let you scan the barcode to get an apples to apples comparison. Maybe this is why it’s getting harder to find someone to help me in the store!

    1. Sometimes I find that when I pull out my phone in the store, a sales person shows up to try to talk me into getting whatever I’m looking at rather than what my phone tells me.

  3. I do a good deal of my research online as well to get a feel for the range of products I’m looking at. Sometimes, I go into the store to see what’s actually available first, so I don’t waste time researching something that isn’t available, and use RedLaser to compare prices on the spot.

    I’m like you when it comes to the actual purchase. For $2 I won’t bother going home and ordering, it’s just as easy to get it right then and there. I can always make up the $2 down the line.

  4. Dmitry Pakhomkin

    Eric, I can recommend Goodzer as a tool for online-2-offine shopping. It took us few years to develop algo’s for local inventory data collection and now service is launched : http://goodzer.com. Hope that’s helpful.

  5. I find myself now using my phone to not only research items in the store but also purchase items I find online on my phone (right in the store) – as I usually save on price, taxes & many times get free shipping.

    It’s funny how technology can either save you money, or cost you money.

  6. Marie at FamilyMoneyValues

    Depending on the platform, “consumer” comments can be misleading. I usually check trip adviser for information on hotels for the cities I want to visit. On my last vacation, I stayed in the highest consumer rated hotel in the city and found it was a pos. I also found that the hotel seems to stuff the comments with favorable ones!

    1. Very true. Sometimes businesses will hire people to write good reviews. I am always thorough and read both the good and the bad.

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