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We're getting closer to the holiday season (many retailers think we're already in it), and that means it's time to start thinking about what Grandma wants and asking about your nieces' and nephews' clothing sizes. That also means big shopping deals are coming your way. Now how can we find the store with the best deals and not overpay on that LEGO Ninjago set?
Who still gets the Sunday paper? Online news has not only changed how we consume breaking stories, it's also moved weekly circulars out of the newspaper and into our mailboxes. If you're like us, those color inserts forced into our mail get recycled the day we get them.
Weekly Ad & Sales Pro from SlaVanya LLC puts those circulars where you really want them -- in your pocket. Unless you want your car crammed with loose papers, this is just where they should be. Five big buttons get you started.
Only four of these are really helpful
Tap Stores, and the app pulls up a list of stores closest to you. We'd like the ability to re-sort this alphabetically by store name, but that's not currently an option. Tap the name of a store to get a list of their most recent circulars. Tap a date and you're taken to full color scans of the sales.
Sale on Sunny D!
On the scans page you can pinch to zoom, share on Facebook, and view a text version of the document which is super-convenient. The small screen of the iPhone can make some of the deals hard to read. We found that loading the app on our iPad -- even though it pixelated the controls -- gave us nice, crisp pictures of the circulars and catalogs.
Now that's a convenient version
The app also lets you search by Sales,though that gets you essentially the same list as Stores. You can browse by state and city as well as add certain stores to a favorites list. The selection of stores participating isn't bad as Target, Home Depot, RadioShack, Kmart, Wal-Mart, GameStop, Best Buy, JCPenney, Macy's, and Toys R Us are among the names represented.
We tapped Rite Aid and got Dick's. Something ain't right!
Unfortunately, sometimes the info presented by Weekly Ad isn't as accurately presented as it should be on the map. We tapped more than one location to get more information, only to be given the page for another store entirely, one not even close to the store.
Hello Hi Technologies Inc.'s SalesLocator packs considerably more power under the hood than Weekly Ad, but its interface is not nearly as pretty. For starters, there are no full page glossy fliers. Instead, sales and deals found on Sales Locator are pretty much text only affairs.
No flash, no glitter, just the sales
But that's part of Sales Locator's power. Not limited to just who publishes on paper, SalesLocator, gives you tons more sale items. Lesser chains who aren't necessarily turning up in your mailbox or the newspaper make the grade here, such as sales at AutoZone.
When you open the app, you have a search bar across the top and four buttons at the bottom. The Search button is just what it says. You can look for items, like shoes or jeans, or search by store. A Filter button lets you narrow or widen the range and sort by proximity. The Map button shows you where the stores are.
Categories helps you find kinds of sales
Or browse by type of search using the Categories button. Here you can search out all the Toys & Games deals, find those elusive deals on office supplies, or even peruse the Noteworthy sections like Black Friday deals or Winter-related sales. Tap a deal to get the details, no matter how you arrive to its page.
Just the facts, ma'am, SalesLocator skips the glitz
When you find a sale you like, you can star it to add to your list for easy access later (requires you sign up for an account), share via email, Twitter, or Facebook, get directions, call the store, and see the store location on a map.
SalesLocator was laggy at times with the black Searching... box covering our screen and hiding our results, but the stores listed were every bit as big name as Weekly Ad, and then some. It's not pretty, but it gets the job done.
Shopbee's eponymous app gave us the least satisfaction of the three. To begin with, you're required to create an account before you can even use the app. Then, even if you select "Remember Me," the app requires you to log in every time. Tapping Log In from the home screen takes you to a second page where you have to tap Go to sign in.
Log in every time? Just to see some sales?
These might be small beans complaints, but Shopbee makes their buttons remarkably small for an iPhone screen and puts unnecessary hoops to jump through before you can even get to the deals.
Did we say deals? Where the two previous apps held hundreds of those, from our location, Shopbee pulled up two, both charitable donations for breast cancer awareness. The deals should be listed across the app's top using an icon based system. Our charities had a ribbon, but we read that shoe sales use a shoe icon.
Not so big on the deals, Shopbee
At the app's bottom, four navigation buttons take you to the main page, a page of wish list items you're looking to buy, a "guide" button with some FAQs, and a "tell a friend" button that preloads an email so you can recommend the app to a friend. These last two are telling. When your app really only has two buttons, but pads it out with two more, it's really only half-baked.
Info we can do very little with from the app
For example, tapping one of our deals we find the information about the charity such as the address of the store making the contribution, its phone number, store hours, and information about the charity. You can not tap the phone number to call the store and tapping the Map It button takes you to the dumbest in-app use of Google Maps we've yet seen. We see a red dot for the place, we can tap the red dot to see the address again, we can pinch and zoom and flick around the map.
Pretty. And pretty pointless
What we can't do is get any use out of this at all. Directions between our location and the store? Nope. Tapping the location dot for the store gives you its address, but no way to move that data out of the app and into a real map. There's not even the possibility of tapping and holding the data to copy it for elsewhere.
Shopbee is cute but badly designed, so badly designed as to be nearly worthless. Without better partnerships with retailers and some overhaul of the UI, we're not even sure why they bothered. Weekly Ads & Sales is beautiful and delivers up crisp images and turns them into text with great accuracy (smart quotes and accent marks throw it off). And while SalesLocator isn't nearly as pretty, it still gives us the most data of the three, and navigation is fairly simple. It is a great utility that treats design from this utilitarian perspective, but looks aren't everything.