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The Gadget Addict’s Guide to Smart Shopping

photo: Retinafunk

Always looking for a good deal when you hit the mall?  Maybe you’re trying to find the best prices in your local shops… or perhaps you’re hunting for online bargains.

Whatever you’re doing, technology can lend a hand. If you don’t have a computer at home, today’s smartphones can download applications that’ll speed up your shopping experience. In fact, you may not need a phone at all. Even your in-car satellite navigation can help out!

Put your electronics to good use with a few of these shopping tips from the gadget-obsessed:

Shop with a sat nav

Many in-auto GPS navigation devices have a database of useful places for when you’re traveling, such as nearby gas stations, malls, and ATMs. Just select what you’re looking for and it’ll guide you there. No phone-juggling-while-driving required.

Some sat navs – including the TomTom LIVE system – also have an internet connection. Not only can you search online, you can rely on your sat nav to take you straight to whatever you’re looking for. A florist? Takeout? Just ask and you’ll be on your way.

Shop with a smartphone

When you’re out and about, you can trust your smartphone to find you a bargain. Download an application like RedLaser and you’ll be able to scan product barcodes. As well as telling you everything you need to know about the items you see, it’ll find you the best prices online and in nearby shops. Similar to that is ShopSavvy — and it will even display nearby retailers on a map.

If you’re more of an eBay addict, the official eBay app will let you manage all of your eBay activities from your handset. As well as taking care of browsing and buying, the app will remind you when watched items and auctions are ending.

Of course, not everyone has a smartphone – and, despite the advertising tagline, there isn’t yet an app for everything. What happens then?

Trust your regular cell phone, says James Rosewell, founder of 51degrees.mobi, which helps retailers create websites that work on mobile phones.

Fortunately for shoppers, the growing numbers of mobile web surfers has caused retailers to make mobile-friendly stores standard practice. Fire up Amazon.com on your phone and see for yourself.

Buy from your browser: comparisons, coupons, social networks

If you end up using a conventional web browser on your home or office computer, there are still plenty of tricks to find the best online deal. Price comparison sites let you see individual product prices at specific retailers. Kelkoo, Shopping.com, ShopZilla and PriceGrabber are all long-established names worth a visit if you’re after high-value items.

If you spend a lot of time on social networking sites, have a look for your favorite brands. Often they’ll have special offers and limited-time deals for loyal fans.

Alternatively, search for online coupons that’ll offer the same kind of discount you’ll obtain from real-world shops. Many a savvy online shopper will open a new browser tab and head to retailmenot.com, an online coupon database, the moment they see a field in a site’s shopping cart marked “promo code.”

Perhaps you’re a little leery of shopping online. There’s no need to be concerned anymore; mostly gone are the days of sketchy shopping carts and unwieldy product hunts. Richard Edwards, director of kitchen equipment retailer foodystuff.com, says online shopping should be as easy as wandering down the high street. If it’s not, you’re on the wrong site.

“When you walk into a high-street shop, you may want to look around – or you might have a specific product in mind. It’s the same when you purchase online. Products should be displayed attractively, they should be priced competitively, they should be easy to find… and, above all, they should be easy to buy. If an online shop isn’t doing that, they’ve missed the point.”

Buy in groups: the next wave of shopping deals

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Groupon, LivingSocial, and other “group buying” sites. You can subscribe to daily deals at these sites to see what’s offered each day.

Even more savvy shoppers use daily deal aggregators like Yipit.com — one of the “daily deal aggregators” out there, which find the best deals in your area based on your preferences. So next time you’re about to go on a shopping spree, why not fire up the Groupon app on your mobile phone, or hit up Yipit’s mobile site. You could save 50-70% off at a particular store.

The smart shopping synopsis

There are apps that’ll search for bargains. There are web sites that’ll offer exclusive discounts. There are even gadgets that’ll help you navigate your way to the best deals in the area.

But the smartest way to buy is to engage your brain first. Does it seem like a good price?  Do you trust the retailer?  Do you have time to check other shops? Can you check your phone for alternatives or deals?

And, perhaps most importantly, do you really want it?  After all, if you end up with something you don’t need – no matter how much money you’ve saved – you certainly haven’t been shopping smart!

Shane Snow is editor and cofounder of Contently.com, which contributed this post exclusively for Mint.com.