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If you're not using these shopping apps from Target and Walmart, you're losing money

 

If you aren’t using at least one shopping app, you’re just throwing money away. From Amazon to Walmart there’s an app for everyone, and they often let you know about deals not advertised in stores. Want to save $10 on a new dress for summer? The Kohl’s app has a coupon. Looking to save 15% on jewelry from JCPenney? Just use the app to find a coupon code.

In the world of retail, brands are investing in apps that make shopping a seamless experience. In fact, a Forrester study commissioned by RetailMeNot found that many U.S. retailers are taking a mobile-first approach when it comes to interacting with their customers — and it’s paying off. The study found that in 2015, 49% of digital coupons on smartphones were used in stores to make a purchase.

And it’s not just tech-savvy millennials saving big on mobile apps. A 2015 Nielsen report found that 40% of the 137 million people now use shopping apps are between 25 and 44. And about one-quarter of mobile shoppers are 55 and older.

Shopkick

Leading the charge in money-saving shopping apps is Shopkick, a one-stop shopping app that aggregates coupons and deals from partners like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Old Navy, JCPenney and many more.

Ranked as the most widely used shopping app by Nielsen, Shopkick also lets shoppers earn “kicks” just for walking into store, or for making purchases with a credit card linked to the app. The "kicks" can be redeemed for gifts, which can be used at partnering retailers. In other words, shoppers get paid just for shopping.

Target

Of course, many retailers have their own apps aimed at creating a budget-friendly and social shopping experiencel. Target’s (TGT) Cartwheel app, which launched in 2013, can be linked to your Facebook account, allowing you to see how much your friends have saved, and deals they’ve bookmarked.

“I can be a competitive person, and when I see that a friend of mine has saved $800, I feel like I need to step up my savings game,” said Sarah Pattrin, a self-described Target addict from Nebraska. “That, or I think the person is probably buying things they don't really need because they saw a good deal, I'm guilty of that too.”

So while it might be TMI to see that your co-worker just saved $1 on Pepto Bismol, the social element of this app makes saving money into a fun game.

Cartwheel allows users to see how much their Facebook friends have saved using the app.

That might be why Cartwheel is the fifth most popular retail app in the U.S., and Target is on a mission to be #1. Last August, the retailer revealed that 50 trial stores — in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland and Seattle — were outfitted with beacon technology, which provides timely deals and recommendations to customers while they’re in the store.

For example, a customer walking down the pasta aisle might receive a notification on their app with a coupon for spaghetti. This is possible thanks to small devices placed throughout the store that can communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth.

And that’s just the beginning. Target recently hired a digital veteran to focus on mobile initiatives and has unveiled plans to introduce a feature that can re-sort shopping lists as customers move through the store. So the items physically closest to you would be put at the top of your list. Target compares it to how a car’s GPS reroutes drivers when they go off course.

Walmart

Some apps are even flipping the script, helping consumers save money AFTER they've purchased items.

In addition to managing prescriptions and registering for your wedding, Walmart’s (WMT) app has a “Savings Catcher” that lets you scan receipts less than seven days old. The app then analyzes competitors’ prices, and if an item on the receipt is cheaper somewhere else, you get a Walmart e-gift card with the price difference.

Paribus

If brand loyalty isn’t really your thing, check out Paribus. This app will scan your email and find receipts from any purchases you’ve made online. Then it watches the retailers’ websites and requests a refund of the difference if the price drops on something you bought.

Say you buy a coat on Amazon for $200, and the price drops down to $150 two days later, Paribus will reach out to Amazon on your behalf and request a $50 refund. Given that Amazon makes around 80 million price changes every day, this service could be a lazy bargain-hunter’s dream come true. And Paribus is watching so you don’t have to. The app requires your credit card information, and puts any refund money back in your account — so the only time you hear from Paribus is when it’s saving you money. We could all use a friend like that!

The one caveat to Paribus and many of the other shopping apps is that customers are asked to divulge a lot of personal information, including email log-ins, credit card information, interests and location. The FCC says that while apps make “strong security promises,” many use vague terms that make it hard for users to understand how the apps will actually use their data.

The FCC suggests evaluating the app’s data practices before signing up for a particular service. If you’re concerned, consider starting an email account used solely for online purchases or apps. And don’t link a debit card to these accounts. Instead, use a credit card which offers greater protection from fraudulent activity.

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