Forget comfortable shoes, energy drinks and a killer parking spot. It seems that in the quest for an optimal holiday shopping experience, iPhones and Blackberrys are the new must-have tools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that downloads of shopping apps with an emphasis on price comparison (i.e., make sure Nordstrom doesn't charge less for that pea coat before you snap it up at Bloomingdale's) are up by a whopping 77% from last year.





The biggest app in the game is ShopSavvy, which estimates that its iPhone and Android-friendly program was used 18 million times over Thanksgiving weekend.

All this spells empowerment for consumers, but bad news for small business. In a time when shoppers of all income levels are committed to finding deals, completely eliminating roadblocks to the best price shipwrecks competitors who can't live up to it.

And let's face it: behemoths like Amazon and Zappos, with their colossal inventories and sprawling distribution (not to mention, at this time of year, excellent free shipping lures) are always going to beat the independent gift shop and boutique. (One woman quoted in the WSJ story confessed to feeling guilty after using an app called RedLaser to find a better price online for a book she was about to buy at a locally owned shop.)

So by all means, go ahead and use the latest money-saving technology to pit national retailers against each other. But maybe use the cash left over to pick up a few gifts at your neighborhood bookstore.

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