Plenty of folks are shopping online these days, but now that the iPad is in town, there's a much better way to shop than sitting at your desk hunched over a laptop computer. With the right shopping apps you can tap your way to a bargain, keep track of the latest fashion trends, find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, and track it every step of the way until it arrives on your (or your recipient's) doorstep.
Amazon Windowshop (Free)
If you want to "window shop" on your iPad, Amazon Windowshop is the way to do it. Once you sign in to your Amazon account, the screen will almost instantly populate with a huge variety of items presented in a grid view. Categories are vertical, and you can swipe up and down through the product listings with your finger to discover an amazing array of products, most of which you will probably be interested in. If you're looking for something specific, there's a search box at the top of the screen, or you can tap the Browse button in the top left corner to navigate to a specific category.
Tap on any item to get a more detailed view, with one or more large photos. Tabs along the left side of the box direct you to product details, user reviews, and related products. If the item is a DVD, you can view the movie trailer right there in the app; if it's a game, there are usually plenty of screenshots and a trailer as well. You can make a purchase with a single tap or add it to your cart; you can also check to see if used items are available through Amazon Marketplace.
Amazon.com offers one of the best, most personalized shopping experiences on the web, and I have always found their product suggestions to match my tastes. Now that the same experience is available on the iPad, and I'm surprised to say that the experience is even better on Apple's tablet, to the extent that I am much less likely to visit Amazon.com on my laptop. It's just that good; and if you're an Amazon customer who has an iPad, you should already have downloaded this app. If you haven't, do it now.
Delivery Status Touch ($4.99, universal)
Delivery Status Touch was included in my recent holiday top ten roundup, and for good reason. If you do a lot of online shopping, you need this app. Why search through your email to find tracking numbers included in the shipping notices you receive, or even worse, why log on to the vendor's web site every time you want the expected delivery date on your item?
Delivery Status Touch can take care of all of that for you. Just enter your tracking numbers once, either within the app or by visiting the JuneCloud web site on your computer, and each time the app is launched, it will give you a status update on every package you're expecting. This is particularly handy around the holidays, when lots of folks are having their holiday feasts delivered -- when a perishable package arrives at your doorstep, you'll know when to run home and put your holiday treats safely in the fridge or freezer.
The only feature missing from this app is push notifications, but hopefully that will come in a future update. In all other respects this is a must-have app for anyone who shops online and is tired of wondering when their packages will arrive.
eBay for iPad (Free, also available for iPhone)
Like the Amazon Windowshop app covered above, eBay for iPad aims to take the eBay.com web experience and make it even better on the iPad -- and it succeeds in every possible way. Sign in with your eBay account and you will instantly see the auctions you're watching appear on the screen. Type in a search term in the top right corner and watch your results come up; you can then tap on the Advanced button just below the search box to instantly filter the results.
Everything you remember from eBay.com is here, but presented in a slicker, more intuitive fashion. Some things are just better in the iPad app, like the price slider that appears at the bottom of the screen. If you only want to see search results in a particular price range, you can do that by sliding the ends up and down. Of course tapping on any item gives you a more detailed view of the listing, and you can bid and buy from within the app. After using the eBay app, visiting eBay.com on your computer may be a thing of the past. This app makes the familiar process of shopping online auctions uniquely fresh and new all over again.
Gifts HD ($3.99)
The holiday season can be a hectic time, and it's easy to forget someone, or to overspend on their gift because you're shopping at the last minute. Gifts HD can take care of all of those problems by keeping you organized. Plan ahead by setting a total budget, making a list of people to buy for along with desired gifts, and track which gifts have been purchased, wrapped, and mailed. There's even a place to enter tracking numbers, and while you'll have to copy and paste to get them into Safari since there's no direct link, that's still better than having those numbers scattered all over your email or the receipts on your desk.
There's a password protection feature so that multiple people in the same family can use the app without any worries that someone will peek. You can also adjust the settings to provide a countdown for Hanukkah instead of for Christmas. A built-in calculator helps you divvy up the cost for group gifts, and you can email a complete summary of your gift list, which is especially helpful if you don't want to take your iPad to the store with you, or if you're trying to delegate your gift shopping to your significant other.
Gilt for iPad (also available on iPhone)/HauteLook (iPhone only)/Rue La La (universal) (All apps free)
Veteran shoppers already know about these sites, where designers and top brands hold special clearance events that make even the most luxurious products much more affordable. Gilt for iPad, HauteLook, and Rue La La each offer basically the same experience, which is why they're lumped together here. (HauteLook is available only as an iPhone app -- it will work on your iPad, though the graphics suffer somewhat.) Events or "boutiques" for each brand are different each day and typically start in the mid-morning; the best items go extremely quickly, so it's a good idea to be ready to shop when you see that a designer you're interested in is having a sale on one of these sites.
Events include women's and men's clothing, watches, jewelry, luggage, home accessories and furnishing, and sometimes electronics, with prices up to 75% off of the regular retail for each item. Once you sign in to your account, you can browse the items on offer and purchase them from within the app. You can share individual items with your friends as well. None of the apps include any order tracking features, but that isn't too surprising since most of the items they sell are drop-shipped directly from the vendor -- and you can still log in to their full sites within Safari to check the status of your order.
mGifts ($2.99, universal)
Like Gifts HD, mGifts is designed to help you keep track of all the people you need to buy gifts for and what you're planning to purchase and spend this holiday season. Four tabs at the bottom of the screen organize your gift shopping by person, gift, store, or event, which means that mGifts can be more easily used year-round, and not just for Christmas. When you tap on a person, you will see spaces for gift ideas and past gifts as well as those already purchased and the ones you will need to buy. The envelope icon at the top right corner of the screen is used to email a list of all gifts, or just needed gifts, if you're taking your smartphone to the store instead of your iPad.
The mGifts app has some nice extras, such as the ability to add photos both to the people you're buying for and also to each gift entry; plus space for notes, though there isn't a separate field for the tracking number. The app isn't as graphically pleasing as Gifts HD, and might be more difficult to use for those who ship more of their gifts rather than giving them in person, but it will keep you organized.
Pricegrabber (Free, iPhone version available)
If you've used Pricegrabber before, then you already know how the Pricegrabber app works: pick your product, and then let Pricegrabber query several online merchants in order to get the absolute best online price. It's simple, but effective -- and certainly easier than surfing several different sites looking for the best deal.
Once you find an item you like, you can add it to your wish list, share it with friends and family via Facebook or Twitter, or even set up price alerts to let you know when the item you want goes on sale. You can make purchases with just a few taps; select the Shop button in order to head straight to the vendor's site where you can get additional information or go ahead and make the purchase.
Finding bargains is certainly a worthy task, but this app also goes a step farther and helps you come up with gift suggestions too. Just tap the gift box icon in the top right corner of the app and pull the slot machine-style lever to randomly select a category and price range. Some of the suggestions may seem a bit strange, but you'll certainly get some new ideas that could potentially lead you to the perfect present at a great price.
ShopStyle (Free, universal)
Are you a fashionista? Do you enjoy shopping the latest styles in clothing, shoes, accessories, beauty, and home furnishings, but hate tromping through store after store or catalog after catalog? If so, ShopStyle may be the only shopping app you'll ever need. Choose a category and then start browsing. Everything is very well organized, whether you're just "window shopping" from a variety of stores or interested in filtering your search results by a particular keyword, brand, store, color, or price.
Illustrations are large and high quality, descriptions are thorough, and you can add individual items to your list of favorites or set up a price alert so you'll know when that high fashion dress goes down to a more reasonable price that fits your budget. You can share items by email, Facebook, and Twitter too, so that even if your spouse or significant other needs specific instructions, you'll always get a great gift.
This is the best app for browsers and online "window shoppers", unless you happen to be looking for Amazon's strengths such as books and DVDs. ShopStyle offers a wide range of possibilities if you're not shopping for anything in particular while also providing the tools you need to quickly find exactly what you want if you're on a specific shopping mission.
QVC for iPad (Free, also available for iPhone)
Even if you'd never admit to shopping at QVC, it's hard not to appreciate the QVC iPad app. It enhances the QVC experience that you could get on either your computer or your TV and makes it into something even better. The main screen of the device highlights the value of the day, the item on air, and current promotions such as top-rated gifts. There's a search box at the top right corner of the screen, and you can also watch the live stream of QVC TV right from your iPad.
Tapping on any item brings up larger photos, plus the full product description and customer reviews. You can make purchases from within the app, or email the product description yourself or someone else, which is great for dropping hints about what you really want for Christmas. If you sign in with your QVC account information, you can also view your order status so you'll know when your purchases have been shipped out. It's quick and easy, and this app combines the convenience of online shopping with the ability to see full product presentations so you'll know before you order whether the item is the perfect gift for your friends, your loved ones, or even yourself.
Zappos (Free, universal)
If you like shoes, you probably love Zappos, and the same is also true of the Zappos iPad app. Finding the perfect pair or exploring other departments such as clothing, purses, beauty products, and housewares is as easy as tapping your way through the categories to drill down to exactly what you want. If you're not sure, just use the blue Filter button at the top right corner of the screen to refine your search by brand, size, color, or one of several other choices.
Tapping on an item brings up the detail screen with access to truly excellent high resolution photos of each item from every conceivable angle. Detailed product descriptions are included, plus user reviews and information about the brand offering each product. You can add items to your cart or to a list of favorites for further contemplation, and of course, you can checkout within the app once you log on to your Zappo's account. There's nothing truly revolutionary here, but the Zappos app is a great representation of the Zappos.com experience and is even faster than waiting for a standard web page to load. If you're a Zappos fan, or even if you aren't one yet, this app is a no-brainer download that will make shoe shopping an almost completely painless experience.
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