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November 19, 2017
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Screenshot of iTunes App Store.

I've hardly ever stopped to ponder the impact, or even the existence, of so-called "shopping apps" for mobile devices. I know they're out there - all unknown number of them in the iTunes App Store - but who are the people behind them and how are they being used? In the very mobile pages of this magazine, I've written about technology and the way it's pre-destined to change our lives, and about the changes in where we shop and what it means to the retail landscape. But, like many digital natives who now find themselves constantly playing catch-up with new tech tools, I have yet to fully venture into the world of mobile shopping apps and really "take advantage" of what it apparently has to offer me. Part of me doesn't get it; part of me is wondering if I've missed the boat altogether.

The most interesting thing for me has been deciphering how much pull these apps actually have in our real world experiences. The iTunes store doesn't have a category for them (yet). Some apps are listed under business and entertainment, while most are in the lifestyle category, which itself only makes up under eight per cent of the entire operation. But it's true that a digital insurgency keeps driving toward us, with user-driven technology like Siri and Microsoft's Kinect re-inventing everyday tasks. Perhaps the most telling sign of our retail times isn't simply that we're shopping online more, but rather how we're doing it when we do it in person. 

Now pair these innovative, novel, price-conscious shopping tools and mindsets with the bizarre actions of this year's Black Friday stories from across the globe - Hello, Urban Outfitters and the $2 waffle iron crowd at Walmart.

The fact that iTunes still hasn't designated a "Fashion & Shopping" category won't stop shopping apps from landing in your iPhone's home screen now, or in the very near future. Consider the opening figures from the latest in a string of press releases I have received in the last quarter alone - about a dozen in total - announcing a new, innovative shopping experience: "A recent survey revealed that 49 per cent of Canadian shoppers use their smartphones to access price information, and that about 41 per cent conduct product comparisons on their smartphones." This particular release is introducing the new ShopWise iPhone app from the Yellow Pages Group (yes, those very famous yellow pages). Although it's been available for download since early November, media members and bloggers will participate in a challenge set to showcase the ultimate thrill in deal-seeking at the official unveiling next week. The app is impressive and, with a big name behind it, boasts what the company says is "one of the largest deals databases in Canada, with thousands of deals available weekly." (I'd say it looks accurate.) ShopWise is, however, just one of many apps that have entered the ring, poised to be the go-to for a smarter, savvier, economically-conscious shopper. In August, Torstar Digital, a division of one of Toronto's largest media corporations, launched ShopCatch, a location-based shopping app that gives users access to instant deals on-the-go, "when they are ready to shop."

So what's the appeal here? Why get into the mobile shopping app race? "More and more Canadians are on the lookout for deals, shopping information and tips online and on their mobile devices. [We're] about helping people shop smarter by providing them with relevant content and easy-to-access information," says Matthieu Houle, the director of mobile and platform for the Yellow Pages Group, eager as he manages the big unveil of the company's newest asset. But are shoppers really latching on? Apparently, recession or not, there is a serious demand for discounts - any way we can get them. In three weeks, ShopWise has already made it into the "Great Canadian App" category on iTunes, achieving 75,000 downloads due to its focus on shopping activities first and foremost. 


In October, Canadian handbag brand Nella Bella made an even greater case for the revolutions happening in app shopping, in retail and in real-time. The company participated in what is being called a "Canadian technological first," giving viewers at home the chance to use their iPhones to buy products featured on a men's fashion program through another new app called SeeLoveBuy. During an episode, viewers were able to instantly access detailed product information and pictures, offering instant purchasing options of any product featured during a ten-minute segment. 

"Smartphones are more than a fad," echoes Houle. "Essentially, Canadians love shopping on mobile - by 2014, more searches will likely be done on mobile than on the web. It is also an enabler to social shopping, by giving you access to your network for recommendations on the go." And this mentality seems to be trending. Two weeks ago, a North Carolina company launched Stucck in beta, a Facebook application extension designed to help you get feedback on impending purchases that will bring this niche marketing category full circle. It's no longer a matter of bringing a friend along, or even posting a picture on your wall to see who'll chime in on the potential purchase. Now, there's an app for that. "We believe that these trends will only increase over time considering the convenience and speed smartphones provide consumers especially when it comes to shopping and deal searching," adds Houle on the social shopping aspect of the app attack.

Crowd outside of a Urban Outfitters on
Black Friday last week

(Source: Hollywood Gossip).

So what's the attitude towards these apps, especially with the onset of the globe's biggest retail season?  In a recently-published holiday survey from Deloitte, six out of 10 shoppers will check or compare prices specifically while in a store, and one-third will seek discounts, coupons and sale information from their phones while shopping in a retail store this season. Yes, it appears that the revolution of app-meets-discount shopping is, in fact, spreading at a rapid, viral pace. That's good news, right? In all ways money, economists will think so. Early reports from Europe - the first to come out by this deadline - point to sales figures so high that headlines are reading, "What recession?" with online sales up by as much as 20 per cent globally.

Now pair these innovative, novel, price-conscious shopping tools and mindsets with the bizarre actions of this year's Black Friday stories from all over - hello, Urban Outfitters and the $2 waffle iron crowd at Walmart - and I can't decide if one rise in incidence is a direct result of the other. The tools of discounting-on-the-go are the truest future there is for a consumer-driven economy - and the people (a.k.a. the power) behind it. I mean, it's only fair to expect that the more tools we give people to control and benefit from their shopping experiences, the more they'll do it. But don't they say that with great power comes great responsibility? I'm honestly not sure what the next next frontier is, but let's not start any more riots.

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