Shopping online at retailer websites is convenient and fun, but new apps for tablets and smartphones take it to a whole new level, notes ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports. They make shopping even easier because you can do it not just anytime but also anywhere.
More and more retailers are coming out with mobile apps, and shoppers are jumping onboard. Target says that 30 percent of its digital traffic comes from mobile devices, for example, and flash-sale site Zulily reports that almost half of its orders came in via its app during the first three quarters of 2013.
ShopSmart took a close look at some shopping apps that are worth checking out. (They're all free.)
Best for: buying everything. Its app, like its website, gives you access to a huge marketplace where you can find just about anything. The app's design mirrors that of the website, so it makes you feel right at home.
Best for: unique finds. Etsy is a gold mine of handmade and vintage goods, with prices ranging from trinket to treasure. The app, like the site, is full of individual shops set up by artisans selling their creations. There's so much to see that it could be easy to get overwhelmed, but the app does a great job of categorizing the offerings and paring down your search results.
Best for: daily deals. This app is all about sales. It's billed as daily deals for moms, babies and kids, but don't overlook it if you don't have kids at home. The clothes and shoes featured here are comfy and stylish, and you don't want to miss the deep discounts on accessories and housewares, either. The sales are limited-time "flash" sales, so be sure to note when one ends (check the upper-right corner). One thing that makes Zulily unique is that it places bulk orders with vendors after shoppers order items. That makes inventories and shipping times a bit unpredictable, but it's also why Zulily can offer such low prices. (Warning: Sales on some items are final, so check before you buy.)
Best for: customer service. The days when Zappos was just about shoes are long gone. It has become a great e-tailer for all kinds of merchandise, including sunglasses, stemware and sporting goods. And Zappos clearly wants to be there to help you get what you need. The customer-service phone number is plastered all over the app screen, and you can live chat with a representative.
Best for: finding outfits. The simplicity of this app's design is what ShopSmart likes best about it. The neutral background lets the fashions shine, and, let's face it, that's what you're there to see. You can even swipe through views and check out the front and back of dresses you're browsing without having to open each item individually.
Best for: making shopping lists. This app does all of the basics really well, so if it's time to make a Target run, you can get it done without having to go out to a store. But what ShopSmart really likes about this app is its unique list functionality. You have grocery lists, Super Bowl party lists, lists of basics and who knows how many others to try to keep up with. This app creates a space that manages all of those lists for you. Just tap "Target Lists" on the home screen and you can create, delete and manage lists for every event in your life.
By the editors of Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org).