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November 22, 2011

Holiday shopping tips and apps for Black Friday and beyond

Gearing up for the holiday shopping wars? Don’t forget your Windows Phone—an indispensible tool for on-the-spot review and competitive price checks, discount hunting, and more. Here are a few of my favorite tricks and apps for beating the crowds and saving cash.

Shop smarter with 7.5

Before I get to apps, let’s start with some of the mall-friendly tools built into Windows Phone 7.5. I’m always amazed how much I can get done without downloading a single thing.

One built-in convenience I use all the time is Bing Vision, which taps your phone’s camera to help look up product descriptions, reviews, and prices. To start, tap your phone’s Search button (magnifying glass icon) to launch Bing, then tap Vision (the little eyeball icon). Bing Vision can recognize traditional barcodes, QR codes, and Microsoft Tags— just find it on the box and hold up your camera to it for a second or two.

But that’s not all. Windows Phone 7.5 can also recognize books, CDs, and DVDs by their jacket covers—handy when a store pastes over the original barcode with its own version. On bookstore runs, I’m constantly waving my phone over the shelves, scanning covers and checking reviews to see if a title is worth my time. The funny looks I get are worth it. Since Bing Vision keeps track of scanned items (tap History to see them), it’s also an easy way to build a list of things to buy or research later. Here’s a quick 16-second overview of the feature. Find out more on the Windows Phone website.

Another Bing-related built-in every shopper should know about is Local Scout—useful for finding stores when you’re travelling and on unfamiliar turf.  To get started, tap the Search button, tap Scout (the little downtown skyline icon), then flick to Shop too see a list of nearby stores. This how-to article explains a bit more. (One important caveat: Bing Vision and Local Scout are available in many parts of the world, but not everywhere.)

Finally, I’ve noticed that many of my friends with Windows Phones overlook the built-in Office Hub and OneNote Mobile, a perfect tool for creating shopping lists for the kids, noting where you parked, and other mall-related miscellanea. Give it a try!

Top shopping apps

OK, so now you know that Windows Phone is pretty handy right out of the box. But savvy shoppers will still want to arm themselves with the latest shopping apps. Here’s my short list of must-have options, most of which have been updated to take advantage of new features in Windows Phone 7.5 like multiple Live Tiles and fast app switching:

  • Amazon Mobile: Amazon doesn’t always have the lowest prices. But they usually serve as a good sanity check for seeing how much you might be overpaying at the mall. Their 5-star Windows Phone app makes it easy to comparison shop, check reviews, access your Amazon account, and buy stuff from your phone.
  • eBay: Another one of my go-to apps for great deals, putting in bids, and monitoring auctions.
  • Groupon: The official Groupon app for Windows Phone serves up major discounts on stuff to eat, see, and buy.
  • Shop Savvy: Like Bing Vision, this app lets you scan barcodes. But where it really comes in handy is for searching prices at multiple online and local stores, so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal. A must-have download.
Amazon Mobile


Shop Savvy