Smartphones

Consumers turn to mobile apps during holiday shopping season

  • A shopper uses Shopkick at an American Eagle store.

    A shopper uses Shopkick at an American Eagle store.  (Shopkick)

  • The Ibotta app.

    The Ibotta app.  (Ibotta)

  • The Slice app.

    The Slice app.  (Slice)

With Hanukkah about to begin, Christmas just over a week away, and 2015 just around the corner, consumers are now entering that holiday shopping crunch time. Whether they are hitting their local malls or turning to online retailers, shoppers are now faced with an overwhelming array of options. What are the best deals? What are the top products this year? Where are the best markets to purchase the food and drink needed for the merriest of holiday parties? 

To make sense of all of this holiday season confusion, more and more consumers are turning to mobile apps to help them snatch up the best deals and track down the best gifts. The right app can make one’s phone the smartest, most helpful, personal shopping assistant.

For Anderson, South Carolina-based floral designer Scherri Umensetter, her smartphone has allowed her to track down some pretty great deals this season. Umensetter is a big fan of Shopkick, an app that offers a “feed” of deals and products available at stores in a user’s given geographic location. The app provides information on items that are trending in popularity, and also customizes select finds based on a user’s past purchases. When a user makes a purchase, she receives “kicks,” or reward points that are collected once items are scanned at the checkout. Kicks accrue over time and can be redeemed for gift cards.

Umensetter has been using the app for three years, and told FoxNews.com that it is very easy to use.

“It’s really changed the way I shop,” she wrote, in an email,  noting that the app has helped her earn three $300 Coach gift cards. She added that using the app has reoriented her shopping habits to only visit stores that provide kicks.

The ability to shape and personalize the shopping experience of a consumer like Umensetter is the appeal and power of mobile apps, Alexis Rask, Shopkick’s chief revenue officer, told FoxNews.com.

“What is great about an app like Shopkick is that it is personalized to you, it becomes your companion,” she said. “It knows you and gives you the tools and tips that you need.”

Rask said her company is constantly fine-tuning the app, with updated versions released every two weeks. During the holiday shopping insanity, Rask said all of Shopkick’s “usage numbers increase” during heavy shopping periods like Black Friday or the week leading up to Christmas.

“The phone has become the digital companion in the physical world,” Rask added. “It comes with you. It’s really the only medium that comes with you in the store – you aren’t bringing your computer with you. So many consumers are using their phones in stores. It’s really changed the way we all shop in such a short period of time.”

Attracting users back to physical stores is important for Bryan Leach, the CEO and founder of Ibotta. Leach’s two-year-old app encourages users to turn away from their computer screens and step back into physical stores by offering consumers cash back when making a purchase at the more than 200 retail brands that work with Leach’s company, like Walmart and Best Buy. The shopper first unlocks rebates on products by searching through various categories on the app like “grocery,” “apparel,” and “restaurant.” At the end of his trip to the store, the user will redeem his purchase, take a picture of his receipt, and within 48 hours, will have cash deposited back to his Ibotta account.

Leach said it was important that the app be keyed into social media. By connecting to the app through Facebook, users and their friends join “teams.” The larger the team, the more likely the team will win monthly cash-back bonuses.

For Leach, mobile apps can do a great job of connecting people to the products and services they want in a personal way – mimicking in the real world much how social media connects people with their interests in the digital world.

“The point of new media is to facilitate a one-on-one conversation between people,” Leach said. “You ask questions, you find deals, you look for what you really want. You aren’t taping a coupon to your phone and carrying it around. Instead you build a highly interactive, transactional relationship with the places that you shop. You build brand equity, you tell a story, and retailers can target one segment of the audience that they need to get their message out to.”

Getting the message out to consumers about what products they should be drawn to is difficult in a digital age dominated by the constant flow of social media such as Twitter feed. It can certainly make shoppers disorganized during a busy time of year. Sabrina Ko, the director of product management for Slice, says that her company's app can make sense of the chaos.

Like Shopkick, Slice is marketed as a mobile personal shopping assistant. The app lets shoppers track packages, organize purchases, and even know where and how to save money on future purchases. The app pinpoints e-receipts in users’ email inboxes and takes data points from each purchase to help keep track of a consumer’s shopping history.

“Not only does our app help you keep track of purchases and shipping information, but it focuses on the post-purchase period,” Ko said. “What if the price for an item drops after you make a purchase? In order to get good deals, you would normally be checking the merchant’s site every day. We make it easy by tracking the site for you, and if the price drops after you make a purchase, then we walk you through the process of requesting a refund.”

According to Ko, Slice is a way for a user’s smartphone app to take care of the things that usually aren’t at the top of the day’s to-do list. For shoppers who are planning holiday parties and getting ready for the onslaught of family visits, the last thing on their minds would be scanning websites for constantly updating deals. Slice steps in to do the dirty work that many consumers don’t have time for.

For those holiday party planners, the popular app from Delivery.com plays a big role, especially as New Year’s Eve rolls along. The app works as a middle man between consumers and merchants who provide food, alcohol, groceries and even laundry services. The user simply enters his address, chooses from a list of nearby businesses, and the app does the rest by sending the delivery information to the merchant.

“We are really working into people’s normal routines,” said Spencer Wong, Delivery.com’s vice president of products. “This is the busiest time of the year for us. There is the seasonal change that sees people less willing to pick up food. People are hosting holiday office parties and need to find a way to quickly and easily place catering orders. We see our app as making it easier for people to alleviate the things that might stress them out.”

Finding a way to make the holidays just a little bit less stressful might be the biggest appeal for users of mobile apps when shopping or planning a family gathering. It also plays into a specific generation’s ever-growing reliance on their phones.

“The appeal of the mobile app in holiday shopping is generational,” Leach said. He explained that while 28 is the median age of his app’s users, the median age of the traditional print-at-home coupon shopper is over 50 years old.

“It’s a way to make life easier,” he added. “In recent years you’ve really seen the rise of mobile influence in store sales. Look how often people check their phones. It’s a virtual daily habit. It’s addictive.”