Apps are turning smartphone users into GPS-enabled coupon savers.
Smartphone apps take guesswork out of bargain hunting
Jaydeep Whabi is a self-proclaimed "gadget freak" and whenever there is a deal on the latest technology, he is eager to snap it up.
But rather than scouring the malls, flyers and websites for the latest sales, he lets his mobile do all the work.
Mr Whabi, a 32-year-old graphic designer based in Dubai, uses an application on his iPhone called iShopaholic, which alerts him when deals are on at electronics stores at malls in Dubai, such as Sharaf DG.
"There are a lot of deals, but not many people know about these deals ... what I've done with this app is put Sharaf DG on my watch list. So any deals that come up, I'm definitely going to get it," he says.
Bargain-hunting shoppers normally rely on advertising, websites, pamphlets or even signs hanging in shop display windows to know what discounts are up for grabs.
Now, consumers can research all that - plus compare deals and prices between retailers - in the palm of their hand.
Smartphone applications such as iShopaholic and Amazon's Price Check enable shoppers to use their mobiles to see the promotions on offer while strolling through the mall, or even scan a particular bar code and know how good a deal, or rip off, is hanging in front of them.
"We are all looking for deals today," says Mihir Shah, a developer and co-founder of App Wizards, which launched the iShopaholic application for malls in Dubai this year. "When I go to shopping malls, I'm always looking for the best price around ... why not have that on your phone?"
There are two basic types of shopping applications - programmes that allow a consumer to shop online at a particular store and ones that function as a personal assistant, helping to compare prices and track shopping lists.
At least two "helper" applications are in the works for the Emirates.
App Wizards' iShopaholic, available free for iPhone and BlackBerry smartphones, lists the deals running at six participating malls in Dubai, including Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, says Mr Shah.
Once the programme is downloaded onto a smartphone, consumers can scroll through the deals while strolling through the mall thanks to the phone's GPS capabilities, which detects the shopping centre the user is in.
Consumers can also look at what's on offer at other malls through the application. The deals are listed for each mall, along with the travel distance to that particular shopping centre.
Each deal is also listed with a coupon code, an expiry date and a phone number, so the user can contact the store in question. There is also the option to follow your favourite brands, as Mr Whabi did, and the iShopaholic programme will alert you when there is a deal at one of its stores.
A static mall map can also be viewed through iShopaholic, but an interactive one with directions is not available.
Mr Shah adds that iShopaholic will be extended to shopping centres in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in the coming months.
It will have some competition by the second quarter of this year, when Abu Dhabi Media Digital Out of Home (AD Media DOOH) launches its mobile shopping application.
"It's a very interesting market," says Andrew Wood, the general manager of AD Media DOOH, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which owns The National newspaper. "People here love to shop in malls. The average time people shop at the mall is 2.8 hours here. And everyone likes deals in this economic climate at the moment."
The company's mobile application, the name of which has not been released, will enable users to download a map of the mall on their mobile phone and be alerted to offers as they walk around the shopping centre, he says.
Mr Wood expects this segment to grow rapidly in the Emirates. Discount and group-buying websites such as GoNabit and Cobone are becoming increasingly popular, and this will likely spread to the mobile medium, he says.
"You'll find that many of these people will be moving onto mobile platforms," he says. "Consumers want to be able to do that."
And as smartphones, such as the iPhone and BlackBerry, become more ubiquitous, retailers the world over are eyeing the mobile realm. By 2013, mobile phones will overtake personal computers as the most common way to access the internet worldwide, according to Gartner. Using these smartphones for more than just calls is becoming more commonplace as well. Worldwide mobile application downloads are forecast to reach 17.7 billion this year, a 117 per cent increase on last year, according to Gartner. This is expected to generate US$15.1bn (Dh55.46bn) in revenue this year, up 190 per cent.
More and more smartphone users in the US are using their devices for shopping, according to a recent survey by ForeSee, a market research firm.
"As smartphone use increases, more customers will turn to the mobile channel to find price and product information before making a purchase," it said in its report, Explosion in Mobile Retail Provides Opportunity for Retailers.
There is no data for the Middle East, but in the US, about 32 per cent of all survey respondents said they had accessed a retailer's website using a mobile phone compared with 23 per cent in 2009. An additional 32 per cent said they planned to use their mobile to access a retailer's site, mobile website or mobile app in the future.
Many were using their phones to compare prices, ForeSee said.
About 56 per cent of respondents said they used their mobiles to look up price information about a product, and 46 per cent used their phones to compare different products, according to the survey.
"Compared to last year, about three times as many people are using their phones for product research purposes," ForeSee said in its January report. "Use of retailer-developed mobile applications has increased sevenfold and purchasing from phones has quintupled."
Two mobile-shopping applications that are gaining popularity in the US and the UK are Google Shopper and RedLaser.
Through Google Shopper, would-be buyers can find the best price online, scan bar codes of any product to learn more about it and find nearby stores. RedLaser allows shoppers to enter the bar code of the item they're trying to buy, either by scanning or manually, and see a list of local and online retailers' prices.
Unfortunately, shoppers in the UAE do not have these tools at their fingertips as their counterparts in the West do. Attempts to download the Google Shopper application from the iTunes store via an iPhone were unsuccessful. And RedLaser's price search function is currently limited to the US and the UK, according to its website.
Mr Shah says he would like to incorporate these price-comparison features into iShopaholic for local consumers, but there isn't one universal system of bar codes and pricing used by all retailers here.
Lindsey McDonald, a Dubai-based consultant who specialises in information and communications technologies at Frost & Sullivan, says the scanning technology is already available on smartphones here, but it will depend on retailers in the region to adopt the bar-code systems and provide pricing data in dirhams.
But, she says, it's a segment that is likely to grow.
"If you look at the market in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, internet access is growing massively in both countries," Ms McDonald says. "If you start to look at the platform where most are getting internet access, it's through the mobile. Providing mobile apps makes sense."
And for Mr Whabi, just getting a little assistance navigating Dubai's sprawling malls can be a big help. When his elderly aunt and uncle recently came to visit from Mumbai, they used iShopaholic's mobile maps to keep their wandering to a minimum, he says.
"They're old and, for them, walking around Dubai Mall was the biggest deal on earth ... looking at the application really helped us to get around."