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The 5 Best Mobile Apps for Holiday Shopping

Daniel Bortz

The time for shopping far ahead of the holiday rush for big steals has passed. The Sundays spent clipping coupons from the newspaper are long gone. Even turning to the Web in search of the best deals may not help you find the right gifts at the right price. So why waste time prepping for the holiday shopping season with archaic methods when you can use your smartphone to make the process easier and more cost-efficient?

Using mobile apps for holiday shopping isn't a new strategy, but it's an approach that has evolved significantly over the last year. Thousands of shopping apps--many of which are free--are at consumers' fingertips. Approximately one-third of smartphone owners plan to use their devices this holiday shopping season, according to a recent survey by PriceGrabber, an online shopping comparison website.

"In a year where the economy is still pinched, I think you'll see a little stronger value-seeking behavior among consumers," says Steve Krenzer, PriceGrabber's president. With the average holiday shopper expected to spend $548.56 on gifts, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, many consumers want more money-saving resources at their disposal.

Krenzer believes apps streamline the shopping experience and enable people to hunt for deals more comfortably than in a store, where they might feel pressured to make a purchase or claustrophobic among a large crowd. "Consumers continue to value convenience, choice, and efficiency. They're looking for any avenue to shop wherever they are, in any attire they're in, whether that be in their slippers or in a suit and tie," he says. "Mobile apps make that a whole lot easier."

Despite growing demand for apps people can use to purchase items directly from their phone, there are also good apps for consumers who like to shop in-store--where they can see and touch the product--that give them a leg up on the retailer.

These five apps will help you cross the checkout line (or fill your online shopping cart) with the perfect gifts in tow:

Decide. If you're in the market for electronics, appliances, or items for your house and garden, this app will help you make that split-second decision: "Do I buy it now or wait?" The app uses prediction algorithms based on observed price movements to advise whether you'll save more by purchasing the item today or later. You can also use the app to read product reviews and set up alerts for price changes on your desired gift.

One caveat: Decide's price predictions are only right 77 percent of the time.

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone

Gift Plan. The holiday shopping frenzy will already have your head spinning enough. Lessen the load on your memory with the Gift Plan app. You can use it to plug in each recipient's wishlist, including details such as their clothing size, and set a budget for each person. Check the items off the list with each purchase and the app will keep track of how much you've spent--per individual and overall--so you can go home without overspending.

Price: $2.99

Available on: iPhone

Redlaser. This popular shopping app has been around for some time, but it's been revamped to provide more options. You can still use it to turn your iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner, with which you scan items and upload detailed product descriptions and reviews. From there, it displays prices for the product from stores nearby and website competitors.

Now, you can purchase and checkout from the app, and select the item for home delivery or in-store pickup at select retailers like Toys R' Us and Best Buy. You'll also be able to free up space in your wallet, since Redlaser can scan and store your loyalty cards' information so you don't have to carry each one around.

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone

ShopKick. No one likes seeing money leave their wallet while shopping for the holidays, but having money come in? That's a little easier on the eyes. Participating in rewards programs will ultimately return cash, but you can earn additional points--or, "kicks"--with this app. Link your Visa or MasterCard to your smartphone and go shopping at participating stores. You'll start earning kicks simply by walking in the store, and you can earn more by scanning barcodes on featured items and purchasing certain products. Unlike standard rewards cards, SmartKick also offers users exclusive deals. If you have trouble saving up for a particular gift, you can pick the desired product from the app's rewards mall and check your progress so you stay on target.

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android

FastMall. Navigating from store to store can be a challenge if the mall is jam-packed. If you're tired of getting lost, use FastMall to find your way around. Load the mall's map on FastMall and the app will give you turn-by-turn directions to bathrooms, stores, and restaurants (without the use of Wi-Fi or GPS). If you use a baby stroller or a wheelchair, you can turn on the "elevator only" feature for easy access. The app also saves the location where you parked, so you don't waste precious shopping time looking for your car if you have to bounce from one mall to the next.

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone

Twitter: @danielbortz

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