Michele Masterson

Shoppers Phone It In

Increasingly, retailers are luring customers to their stores through mobile phone apps that allow shoppers to say what’s on their mind and make purchases.

In November, Wal-Mart launched a new app that lets consumers shop for products, and also delivers product comparisons, analysis about technical details, specific features, information about availability and user ratings.

Wal-Mart App (image courtesy of AllThingsD.com)

The iPhone application also features new updates that include smart shopping lists with integrated access to manufacturers’ coupons and support for QR code scanning.

In mid-December, Best Buy unveiled its own voice  app that lets users browse, compare, and ask very specific questions about more than 35,000 appliances and consumer electronics products.

Best Buy App

Wolfram|Alpha created the app by combining its natural-language interface with data from Best Buy’s public APIs.

“We’ve taken the strengths we’ve developed in math, science and socioeconomic data, and created something equally unique and useful for online shoppers,” the company said. “Type in the name of a product category, [such as] ‘dishwashers’ or ‘tablet computers,’ for example, and Wolfram|Alpha generates a comprehensive, custom analysis. What are the typical dimensions and other physical characteristics of other products in this class? How common is a given product feature?”

Then there’s Google Shopper Google Shopper for iPhone and Google Shopper 2.3 for Android (2.1+ required), which recognizes products by cover art, barcode, voice and text search. Consumers can find local and online prices, reviews, specifications, and videos.

Amazon Price Check

Not to be left out, there’s also Price Check by Amazon, that lets iPhone users compare prices instantly with Amazon.com and its merchants. Price Check enables shoppers search for Amazon products using barcode, picture, voice, and text search to access product descriptions and customer reviews. The company provides in-store price comparisons via a new price sharing feature. The app is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 devices, and camera-enabled iPod touch devices running iOS 4 or greater. Shoppers just have to say the product name and use voice search to return accurate product matches and Amazon’s pricing.

Wal-Mart said that according to a recent Nielsen report, 50 percent of mobile phone users will have smart phones by the end of 2011, and that the National Retail Federation estimates that over 52 percent of smart phone users will use their devices for holiday shopping.

While other retailers are surely scrambling to add voice assisted shopping capabilities to their arsenal, it remains to be seen how much the technology will help snag more sales.