Whether you skip into the holidays on a cushion of unbridled glee or grudgingly face it with stoic resignation, you know what you’ll be doing at some point between the middle of November and the last week or so of December: steadily accumulating gifts for family, friends, coworkers, and people to whom you’re obligated for one reason or another.
If you’re a savvy shopper, you know that using a little modern technology can go a long way.
The Right App Makes All The Difference
Holiday shopping is now an omni-channel affair. The vast majority of holiday shoppers now do at least some of their shopping online, whether with all-digital retailers like Amazon or hybrids like Walmart or Best Buy. Of the millions of shoppers who still hit the stores in November and December, most bring their smartphones. Deloitte’s 2017 holiday shopping survey found that 40% of holiday shoppers planned to use a retailer’s shopping app that year, and another 36% planned to use a mobile payment app. holiday shoppers use mobile devices to enhance the in-person retail experience.
Mobile aids really come in handy on the two most hectic days of the early holiday shopping season: Black Friday, the day immediately following Thanksgiving and the purported genesis of the “doorbuster” sale; and Cyber Monday, the original digital shopping holiday the following Monday.
All the apps listed here have features designed to simplify and enhance the holiday shopping experience, especially on chaotic, deal-ridden days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A few are specifically designed for the two big days, but most are just shopper-friendly digital aids that offer clear advantages over desktop e-commerce sites.
Unless otherwise noted, these apps are all free to download and require no ongoing membership fees. Some retailers or app owners may have paid membership programs and clubs, but app users are under no obligation to join.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Amazon’s main shopping website isn’t very mobile-friendly. That hasn’t stopped Amazon from growing into North America’s unquestioned retail behemoth, but it’s a deficiency nonetheless.
Good thing there’s the Amazon app, a mobile-friendly distillation for iOS (including Apple Watch) and Android. Newer versions of the app are equipped with Alexa, Amazon’s voice-modulated AI assistant, making for a (nearly) hands-free experience.
Check in the day before Thanksgiving, and again on Black Friday itself, for the complete lineup of Thanksgiving weekend deals. Don’t miss Amazon’s Cyber Monday and Cyber Week sales, which stretch through the week following Thanksgiving.
Enjoy bidding for holiday gifts, but not willing to park at your desktop for the second half of November and most of December? The eBay app for iOS and Android can help.
The eBay app’s handy price and bid alerts put an end to superfluous logins – you’ll know when it’s finally time to pull the trigger and when you need to bid again (if your budget can handle it) without checking your eBay account or even opening your email suite. Use the watchlist feature to check in on your gifting shortlist – and, when the time is right, bid or buy.
If you need some extra cash this holiday season, you can always downsize and declutter your life while padding your holiday gift budget. For more, check out our guide to selling stuff on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon.
3. Best Buy
The Best Buy app is one of the slickest and most comprehensive on this list. Unlike many retail apps, it’s clearly built with the brick-and-mortar shopping experience in mind. That makes it a great addition to your Black Friday arsenal.
Some of my favorite Best Buy app features:
- A QR scanner that you can use to call up detailed product information in-store and build a gift registry or wishlist
- Full e-tailing capabilities
- Detailed product ratings and reviews
- Access to daily deals and promotions, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts
- Secure Touch ID sign-in
- Comprehensive help channels, including text and talk
The iOS- and Android-compatible Target mobile app is pretty handy. Like the Best Buy app, it’s clearly designed to augment the in-person shopping experience. I’m particularly pleased with:
- Detailed product listings that include aisle locations in your preferred store (which you set in the app) – a huge time-saver in large-format Target stores
- User-supplied product reviews
- Up-to-date store maps
- Cartwheel, Target’s in-house coupon and deal aggregator
- Weekly sales flyers, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday scans when available
- Barcode scanner to pull up product listings
The Walmart mobile app is also iOS- and Android-compatible. Notable features include:
- Weekly flyer scans, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday when available
- Walmart Pay, a house-made mobile contactless payment app that you can use to check out without help from a human or fixed self-scanner
- Internal receipt storage for easy budgeting and returns (both clutch during the holidays)
- A mobile pharmacy ordering and pickup app-within-an-app – not directly relevant to Black Friday, but still useful
- Discounts on in-store pickup for select items – order online, swing by at your convenience
The iOS- and Android-compatible Macy’s shopping app comes with a sweet kick-off bonus: 25% off your first order placed through the app. Other useful features include:
- Barcode scanner to reveal detailed product listings and check availability on variants (such as different colors or sizes)
- Online ordering in-store after you try it on – just scan the product code, use your saved payment card information to complete the transaction, and arrange shipping to your home
- Store directories and maps (though nothing as comprehensive as Target’s aisle directory and map)
- Weekly flyer scans, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday when available
- Real-time deal alerts based on your location within the store – if you walk by something Macy’s thinks you’ll link, you’ll know about it
7. Home Depot
- Detailed store maps with exact item locations in aisles – if you’ve ever wandered, agape, through one of these cavernous stores, you know how important this is
- Near-real-time item availability by product and department
- Image search – just snap a picture of an unfamiliar item and the program will return a list of probable matches
- Side-by-side product comparisons with detailed specs
- Barcode scanner for in-depth reviews and descriptions
- Create project- or person-based shopping lists – perfect for holiday gift-getting or post-holiday remodeling
Lowe’s has multiple mobile apps, but the flagship is the appropriately named Lowe’s mobile app. It’s compatible with iOS and Android. Highlights include:
- An in-store product locator with basic aisle maps and a storage system for flagging and “bookmarking” your favorite items
- Quick Lists, or user-friendly shopping and watchlists ideal for the gifting season
- Barcode scanners for comprehensive product information and add-to-list functionality
- Store-specific shopping lists
- MyLowe’s, a free loyalty program that stores your discount card and Lowe’s credit card (if you have one), plus keeps track of your purchase history
If you’re planning a major home improvement project, or simply want to imagine what could be, don’t miss the Lowe’s Creative Ideas app. It boasts a project database with step-by-step instructions, ideas and tips from Lowe’s network of influential bloggers, and an interactive makeover tool that lets you “remodel” your house on your phone.
The iOS- and Android-compatible Menards app is a comprehensive retail aid that’s equally useful at home and in the store. My favorite features:
- An augmented reality tool that lets you visualize Menards products in your home – for instance, a new microwave in its natural kitchen environment or a new lounger just where you want it on the patio
- Product calculators that tally up the amount of raw materials (and their cost) you’ll need to complete your next home improvement project
- Barcode scans revealing detailed product information
- Lists that you can organize by gift recipient, project, or trip
- Customizable gift registries – definitely a help around the holidays
- In-store maps with detailed aisle renderings
Overstock.com doesn’t have a physical store to show off in its app, but that doesn’t stop this award-winning, iOS- and Android-compatible product from shining on Black Friday and beyond. Features that really grabbed my attention include:
- A stunning augmented reality tool that lets you visualize how Overstock products will look in your living space
- Daily deals (including Black Friday specials) and virtual “scratch and win” coupons that gamify the savings
- Personalized in-app and email notifications
- 10% off your first in-app purchase
- One-click ordering with Apple Pay and Android Pay
The Wayfair app’s most notable features include:
- Access to daily, time-limited deals, beginning at 12pm Eastern every day
- Interactive Idea Boards, where you can post and swap decorating and home improvement ideas with fellow Wayfairers
- App-optimized checkout
- An augmented reality feature that maps potential purchases on existing indoor and outdoor spaces around your home
The Sears mobile app is iOS- and Android-compatible. It’s notable for:
- Unbiased, professional reviews and insights on select products from Consumer Reports
- Direct customer support from reps at select Sears-sold brands, including LG and Sharp
- Access to exclusive sales and promotions, including Sears’s eCoupons stash
- Local ads and circulars updated weekly, including for Black Friday
- Real-time order tracking
- In-vehicle pickup – just let your store know you’re outside and they’ll bring the products you ordered to your car door
- Layaway payments – just the ticket to ease the financial burden of your gift-buying obligations
13. Old Navy
- Barcode scanners that reveal detailed product descriptions and information about variants (different sizes, colors, styles)
- Online ordering across multiple Gap brands, including Athleta, Banana Republic, and Piperlime
- Shareable product listings
The Gap has a similar app for Android and iOS too.
Deal-Finding and Discount Apps
These mobile coupon apps aren’t limited to a single retailer. The deals are all that matter.
Ibotta is a cash back app that’s compatible with some of North America’s top retailers, from ubiquitous giants like Walmart and Amazon to regional superstores like H-E-B, apparel and home goods retailers like Under Armour and Kohl’s, and even third-party travel vendors like Travelocity and Booking.com.
Ibotta works year-round, but the volume of available deals and discounts definitely ticks up ahead of the holidays. Unlike many other cash back apps, Ibotta’s money-saving power isn’t limited to digital purchases: You can snap a picture of your in-store receipt to claim your discount retroactively. Use the Pay With Ibotta feature to claim cash back at a wider range of retailers than those found in the classic app.
15. Rakuten Ebates
The Rakuten Ebates app delivers discounts up to 40% (and higher, in some cases) from more than 2,500 retailers nationwide, including hundreds with blowout Black Friday promotions. The range of opportunities is impossible to do justice in a short blurb, but here’s a sampling:
- Deep discounts from top online and brick-and-mortar retailers, such as Amazon, eBay, and Samsung
- Special discounts on Lyft rides – great for beating Black Friday mall traffic
- Push notifications when new deals come online
- Exclusive coupon codes and discount opportunities not found anywhere else
- In-store cash back when you securely add your credit card to the app
- A $10 welcome bonus with your first order and a $25 referral bonus per new customer referral
The RetailMeNot app is one of the original digital discounting apps, and it’s still clearly among the best. With up to 70% off on select instant discounts and up to 15% cash back with select partners, RetailMeNot may offer the deepest discounts of any Black Friday app out there. It’s made all the better for its vast aperture: about three dozen shopping categories, ranging from restaurants and groceries to electronics and travel. Highlights include:
- Up to 12% bonus value when you redeem cash back for a gift card
- Targeted local offers through the Near Me function
- Weekly in-store and online coupons, with volume ramping up around the holidays
- Printable coupons for shoppers who don’t want to rely on smartphone screens
BeFrugal has cash back relationships with more than 5,000 individual retailers and offers coupons with some 50,000 shops and stores, where users claim up to 40% off select products. Like its fellow discounting apps, BeFrugal boasts a wide range of partners, from travel and restaurant vendors to top apparel and electronics brands. Entertainment is a big business here, too, with exclusive offers from StubHub, Ticketmaster, and Fandango. Spread cheer this holiday season with a $10 bonus for each successful referral.
Drop is a user-friendly cash back app that rewards shoppers for direct purchases made in the app – an impossibly easy setup that makes earning rewards as easy as clicking “Check Out.” No receipt scanning or plugin activation required. Drop works with hundreds of top retail, dining, and travel brands, and boasts a slew of value-adds:
- Themed collections tailored to shoppers’ personal preferences, reducing time spent at individual retailers’ websites on Black Friday
- Opportunities to earn bonus cash back by watching videos or unlocking achievements
- Referral bonuses for new Drop users
- Opportunities to redeem rewards for gift cards, which make great last-minute holiday gifts for hard-to-shop-for recipients
The DealNews app works on iOS and Android operating systems. The app works year-round, of course, but it really shines from Black Friday through Cyber Week, when the typical deal volume (some 300 per day) spikes. DealNews deals are all evaluated by professional deal-spotters who do this stuff for a living, so they’re much likelier to be worth your while than the random deals you’ll find with a cursory Google search.
Though Dealnews’s app isn’t quite as comprehensive as the desktop website, many essential features remain:
- Today’s Best Deals, a trove of expert-vetted deals curated from around the retailsphere
- A sophisticated deal-saving feature that lets you save non-time-limited opportunities for later – DealNews spins this as a helpful way to avoid buying products on mobile-unfriendly partner sites
- A slew of coupon codes for hundreds of partner retailers
- Shareable deals – perfect for spreading holiday cheer (and alerting people on your gift list)
Shopular is a mobile-first solution that aggregates personalized deals and offers from hundreds of participating retailers. The secret? GPS-enabled geo-location that knows exactly where you are, plus a sophisticated intelligence engine that understands your preferences based on your past shopping history.
Since you have the final say over which deals you actually see, the experience is rarely overwhelming – though, when you’re consistently served with stuff you really want to buy, it can be more than a little disconcerting.
Shopular really shines with:
- Location-based notifications that kick in when you walk past or into one of your favorite stores
- Curated deals from popular retailers around the U.S., including Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions
- A vibrant shopper community that shops tips, ideas, and experiences
21. The Coupons App
Not to be confused with Coupons.com, whose app is worth downloading in its own right, The Coupons App is one of the longest-running mobile coupon apps around. It hasn’t changed a whole lot since debuting in 2008, but with more than 100,000 participating retailers and a boatload of awards, who’s complaining?
The Coupons App is a great resource for active, relevant discounts at popular retailers. Use its search and alerts features to cut through the noise and narrow down your coupon selection. I’d recommend making a list of retailers you plan to patronize on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And don’t forget to turn on the geo-location feature – that way, you’ll get real-time push notifications when you’re in or near a participating retailer.
Flipp doesn’t go dormant from January through October – it was conceived as a one-stop shop for weekly flyers and ad scans. But its reason for being is definitely the holiday shopping season. Use it to collect and study Black Friday and Cyber Monday flyers as soon as they’re released to the general public: typically a few days before each holiday, depending on the retailer. More than 800 retailers participate, including big guns like Walmart and Macy’s.
The customizable shopping lists and digital clipping feature help you organize your gift list and trim your expenses – though, to be totally honest, there are more efficient apps for these purposes. Check out the coupons stash, which features rotating discounts ranging from 20% to 70% off. Flipp integrates with many retailers’ loyalty cards – just load your digital coupons and save automatically at checkout.
Shopkick is an iOS- and Android-compatible shopper loyalty app that earns real rewards on every purchase you make with participating retailers. Reward points – “kicks” – are redeemable for gift cards from Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, and more. Use the barcode scanner for in-store purchases and the mobile checkout feature for at-home buys.
Earning rates vary by retailer, but Shopkick claims that many new users earn their first gift cards within one week of sign-up. Not bad, considering it costs nothing to take the plunge.
24. Brad’s Deals
The Brad’s Deals app is a bridge between the more impersonal coupon apps of the world and the hard-to-use Consumer Reports-style aggregators of the world. The real value here is at-a-glance access to guaranteed best prices on the latest online deals, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. Trawl the deals while you have a spare minute at work or during your commute, then save your favorite and buy later at your convenience.
25. TGI Black Friday
The TGI Black Friday app is made for Black Friday – literally. The headline is its vast collection of accurate, up-to-the-minute Black Friday ad scans, but some other features are worth calling out too:
- Searchable, current-year Black Friday deals database
- Personalized shopping lists that are sure to help with your holiday gift logistics
- Push notifications for new ads released by your favorite retailers
- Price comparisons to ensure you’re getting the lowest advertised price anywhere
These aren’t the only apps likely to prove useful this holiday shopping season. While researching this post, I came across a whole bunch of retail apps that weren’t quite discount-y enough to make the Black Friday cut, but still clearly had utility for harried gift-getters.
Like the Santa’s Bag app, courtesy of Clay Pot Software. With intuitive budgeting and storage features, Santa’s Bag is one of the cleverest shopping management apps I’ve ever seen. If your holiday gift recipient list is long, and you have a compatible iOS device, check it out – it’s a big improvement over handwritten lists or boring Excel spreadsheets.
What’s your favorite holiday shopping app?