Smart Consumer: Bargain hunters, get ready to scan and scram . . .
A shop-till-you-drop mentality will soon no longer be a requirement when it comes to bagging bargains galore in the winter sales.
This is thanks to the latest trend, which has enabled hordes of savvy shoppers track down the cheapest price simply by breezing into stores armed with their smartphones.
Bargain hunters can quickly scan the barcode on the price tag of any item with their mobile phone and find out where they can buy that same item at a cheaper price.
Such smartphone shopping is hitting record numbers in the US as consumers download and use applications, such as ShopSavvy and RedLaser, to get price comparisons on the move, according to the latest research.
The system works by comparing the product information contained in the barcode on an item in one shop with a vast database of prices across hundreds of retail outlets. The app then reveals which store offers the cheapest price.
Know as 'scan and scram', this trend is set to transform the way we shop.
'The manufacturers used to be the ones with all the power," says Phillip McNamara founder of Pingwell, which creates mobile apps for retailers in Ireland and the US. "Then it was the retailers. But now it is the consumer armed with their smartphone that at last has the real power."
Mobile-phone bargain hunting is rapidly changing the face of retail in the US. But with over three-quarters of a million smartphone owners in Ireland it is likely consumers here will soon realise the potency of their phone when it comes to shopping.
"The mobile is rapidly changing the balance of power," says McNamara. "As a consumer you want to be able to go into Dunnes Stores or Superquinn or wherever, scan the label and compare the price with other stores."
But while shoppers in the States are enjoying the benefits of bargain hunting with smartphones, attempts to do likewise this side of the Atlantic are being stifled.
"This trend is all about price transparency and retailers in Ireland don't like that," says McNamara. "They want consumers to be in the dark."
This has seen the majority of stores here remain unwilling to share their prices for use by companies developing price-comparison apps, hence hindering their effectiveness in Ireland.
While declining to comment regarding retailers blocking attempts at price transparency, Stephen Lynam of Retail Ireland did say: "Everyone's prices are freely available. You can walk into the store and see them, so there is no secrecy."
However, shops are not only worried about the comparison of their prices with other high-street outlets. Internet retailers are also ramping up their efforts to win over consumers by highlighting potential savings on their sites.
Online giant Amazon, for example, recently launched a price-check app that allows users scan barcodes in stores and compare the price directly with Amazon.
Retailers in the US are eager not to get left behind. IKEA and Victoria's Secret are just two major stores that have teamed up with the free mobile shopping app, Savvy. Their customers who use the app can now be notified when specific items go on sale.
Shoppers can also scan their receipts after they've already bought an item and if the price is reduced in the future they will be notified, with most retailers promising to refund the difference.
"There has been a huge uptake in the US because retailers and consumers are used to being able to use smartphones to compare and share prices," says McNamara.
"It will eventually fully come to Ireland," says McNamara. "It will likely take about a year and by then, whether retailers like it or not, all their prices will be available for comparison."