iPhone - mobile shoppingThe biggest trend in stores for 2011 isn't going to be the return of high-waisted jeans, teen apparel or even super skinny TVs. In fact, the biggest trend won't even be in stores at all, but coming from outside, as in how we'll access goods and services from our phones.

Like online shopping before it, mobile shopping lets us click and buy without setting foot in the store. Smartphones after all, are little more than mini computers in our pockets; "in our pockets" being the key part of that phrase. We take our phones with us while shopping and there lies the real benefit.There were so many mobile apps for shopping that at WalletPop, we ran a frequent app watch to highlight our favorites. We love the deal aggregator sites like FatWallet, Brad's Deals and Dealnews. We're happy that coupons can now be accessed online -- legitimately -- and that individual retailers like Target and Walmart have apps that let us access weekly ads and daily deals as we navigate the store.

We're saving money and spending differently because of our phones.

"We're going to see shopping changing in a big way," says Steve Yankovich, VP of Mobile at eBay. "We'll see people skipping ecommerce and going straight to mobile commerce."

According to some estimates, 25% to 33% of total holiday spending was done via mobile apps. Research from retail analysts indicates the apps with the biggest potential for changing how we buy are those that let us compare prices right there at the shelf.

Bar code scanners like RedLaser, and PriceGrabber eliminate the need to return home, go to the computer, research product specs and prices, and then buy online or go back to the store. "(Shoppers) experience choice right there at the moment," says Yankovich. eBay acquired Red Laser in 2010, but Yankovich says the platform is "marketplace agnostic," that directing people to buy on eBay isn't the goal. "We just want to make it the starting point."

It doesn't hurt that eBay will often have the best prices on individual items. It often delivers the lowest available price in a Google search and apps like RedLaser are acting very much like search engines; very accurate and speedy ones. At least in theory.

Shopping apps are only as good as the information they can access. WalletPop's Jason Cochran put a few to the test during the critical shopping season, and they failed miserably, including Milo Local Shopping, another eBay acquisition that directs shoppers to the closest store stocking the product. None of the items searched for were actually in stock for the price shown on the apps. It was a pretty unscientific test, and had a lot of limitations since he wanted to buy it in store, ruling out online inventory and retailers not located in Manhattan like Target and Walmart.

But those of us outside of New York City make up a more representative sample, and shopping apps that offer in-store comparisons and immediate gratification of online ordering if possible have great benefits. One analyst predicts that companies will generate close to 15% of revenue from mobile technology this year. It's the retail trend to watch, and use, for 2011.

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