smart spending

Dialing cell phone for store coupons

Downloading for dollars

Coupon Sherpa's mobile application has been downloaded nearly 100,000 times since its launch in early 2009. Here's how it works: You download Coupon Sherpa, and then scroll through the list of stores that offer coupons through the application. After finding a coupon and shopping at the store, you show the coupon to the cashier when you pay, and he or she can either scan the bar code that appears on the coupon or type in the coupon code.

Knowles says getting retailers in on the learning curve is the key because customers are already there.

"I can tell you that at Sports Authority, for example, because of our iPhone app, they sent out a memo to everybody at Sports Authority saying, 'accept coupons off mobile phones.' My guess is that in a year or so, it will be second nature for retailers," Knowles says.

Retailers embracing the trend

Mike Gatti, executive director of retail advertising and marketing for the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C., says it makes sense for brick-and-mortar businesses to go along with the trend. But they may find themselves bargaining with their tech-savvy customers who can quickly price-compare using their cell phones.

"What you're seeing is a consumer who will be in a store, and he'll look up an item on the cell phone. He'll tell the manager, 'I can find it cheaper somewhere else.' The retailer will say, 'OK, I'll give you that price plus 10 percent off,'" Gatti says.

Cortis Clark, chief executive of Sol Robots LLC of Cedar Park, Texas, which offers the Save Benjis application for 99 cents, says cell phones can empower consumers. For example, Save Benjis allows users to scan the bar code of store items and immediately compare its price with others stored in the company's database, so shoppers can buy the item at the store or from their home computer, or they can order it via their cell phones. Sol Robots' database has prices on more than 5 million items.

"The old-school way was to drive from store to store looking for the best deal, then go home and look online, and then maybe not end up buying anything. Now, with your cell phone, you can see that you're getting the best deal while you're still standing in the store looking at the item on the shelf," Clark says.

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