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Savvy shoppers use smart phones, apps to find the best bargains for the holidays

Follow Sawgrass Mills on Twitter and Ms. More will tell you about the outlet mall's best deals during the holiday season.

At Toys "R'' Us, you can forget the old-fashioned, paper and pencil holiday wish list — go high-tech with the toy retailer's app designed for the iPad.

Spot a good deal on Black Friday and use the Black Flyday app on an Android phone to send it out immediately to all your Facebook friends.

This year's holiday season is when technology and social media join the mainstream, aiming to make the shopping experience more interactive and, hopefully, more productive. For bargain hunters, it's a way to become a more savvy shopper.

Any variety of downloadable apps can help you find the best bargains. Use FastMall to pull up maps of almost all Tampa Bay area malls stretching from Crystal River Mall to Southgate in Sarasota. Stay on top of the best deals by signing up for text message alerts from retailers like Kmart, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works.

"More people are wanting to use their phone to enhance their in-store shopping experience," said Jeffrey Grau, principal analyst with eMarketer, a digital marketing research firm.

Retailers have definitely taken notice, and there's hardly a major national chain that you won't find on Facebook or Twitter. JCPenney has nearly 1.3 million Facebook fans and Toys "R'' Us is pushing the 1 million mark. Those fans get everything from special discounts to sneak peeks on merchandise.

At Macy's, social media and mobile marketing have been growing by double digits, making it just as important — or maybe more so — than traditional marketing.

"It's a more effective tool because you're engaging in a dialogue with the consumer," said Martine Reardon, executive vice president of marketing for Macy's. "Now she feels better about who she is doing business with and it creates a more fulfilling, emotional connection. That ultimately leads to more frequency of visits and higher sales."

Four out of 10 retailers will use Facebook to promote deals this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. More than one-fourth of Americans who have a smart phone will use their mobile device to shop for gifts, compare prices and research products, according to an NRF survey by BIGresearch. That number reaches 45 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds and 43.5 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds.

These are shoppers like Ashley Labrie, who doesn't buy a thing without first checking her iPhone. When the 26-year-old deal-hunting maven finds a great pair of pants, she fires up her phone's browser in the dressing room to see if that size and style number comes cheaper on eBay. Her phone is armed with coupon apps like Yowza!! and Coupon Sherpa, which let her know what stores near her have the best bargains.

It's all about creating a more interactive experience. That's also the focus behind apps like CheckPoints and Shopkick, which last month launched in Miami.

Shopkick has partnerships nationally with Target, Best Buy, Macy's, Sports Authority, Wet Seal, American Eagle and Simon Property Group's South Florida malls like Dadeland Mall. But Simon malls in the bay area including Gulf View Square, Tyrone Square and Ellenton Premium Outlets are not linked to Shopkick yet. Customers score kickbucks by simply walking into a mall or store and checking in on their iPhone or Android phone. They also get more kickbucks by scanning barcodes on select items.

Rack up a total of 875 kickbucks and shoppers can earn a $25 restaurant gift certificate. Reach higher totals and you can earn free movie tickets or a Coach gift card.

"The idea is to give you a reason for walking in," said Cyriac Roeding, co-founder and chief executive of Shopkick. "Once you're inside the store, it's likely that you're going to find something you might want to buy."

Savvy shoppers use smart phones, apps to find the best bargains for the holidays 11/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 8:36pm]

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