4 apps to make your holiday shopping more joyful
Let us all spread joy… and presents, lots of presents.
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Thanksgiving is over, which means the holiday shopping season is officially here—and with it the excitement and stress of trying to hunt down everything on your list.
If you like to plan ahead, you probably already nabbed a few things during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but now you have a bunch of orders to track. And if you prefer to live on the edge and save your holiday shopping for mid-December, you’ll need inspiration, tracking bots, and some good old-fashioned lists. You can get all three from your phone—just equip it with these apps to turn it into a pocket-sized Santa’s little helper.
This Apple-only app lets you set a general budget for your holiday presents and manually keep track of the items you’ve bought, wrapped, or ordered, plus which ones are still pending. You can add as many items per person as you want, and keep track of all gift ideas, even if they’re homemade.
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On the main screen, you’ll see your current spending in relation to the amount you set as a limit at the beginning of the holiday season, and whether you’re over or under budget. The same screen will also show you how many days there are until Christmas, which may be your deadline. But if you don’t celebrate, this feature may mean nothing to you, as it’s the only holiday available and you can’t change it. You can, however, change Santa’s skin tone—just tap the cog icon in the upper right corner of your screen, go to Settings, and find Santa skin tone.
Yes, this is an email app, but listen—the Yahoo Mail app was specifically designed for tracking online purchases, deals, and a whole lot else related to shopping. If this doesn’t sound like a helpful holiday tool, we don’t know what does.
The platform is an email manager, or client, which means you don’t have to have a Yahoo email address to use it—you can sync your Gmail, Outlook, or iCloud accounts and it’ll work just fine. Conveniently, once you download the app and set it up, you’ll see two tabs at the bottom of your screen that will be your best shopping buddies.
Tap the Shopping tab to see all the marketing messages you’ve received, in chronological order. You can also organize them by brand, as well as categories like food, clothes, beauty, and travel. You can sort your messages even more by picking one of the labels at the top of your screen. Tap Deals, and you’ll be able to see all the promotions, discounts, and coupons in your inbox. If you have a savings code for a present, this is where you’ll find it. The very last label is Gift Cards, which you can check to see if you have any unused credit for a particular store.
Back at the bottom of your screen, tap Receipts to see all the purchase confirmations you have in your inbox. The app will show you a short preview of each one instead of the entire message, so you’ll only see what’s important: what you bought and how much it cost. This feature makes it easier to distinguish between different receipts from the same store and can come in handy if you need to make any returns after the holidays. As an added bonus, this tab will also tell you when a free trial is about to expire and how many days you have left. Three days before the deadline, you’ll see a prominent notice appear above your inbox, which reappears every day so you cannot miss it.
When you have gifts in transit, tap the Packages label at the top of the screen to see all the tracking numbers from your orders. You can tap a number to open the order’s confirmation message or hit the copy icon (it looks like two sheets of paper) to copy the tracking number onto your device’s clipboard. Here, you can also enable auto-tracking, a feature that will follow your parcel’s shipping information and notify you whenever there are updates to your order’s location. Yahoo outsources this service to a third party, but the tech company said via email that they only share your tracking numbers, so details like your name, address, and credit card details are secure.
You can trust that the world’s biggest online search engine has an interest in making your holiday shopping easier.
The most unique part of Google’s shopping features is augmented reality, which rolled out earlier this year. Right now, this feature will mostly help you shop for furniture by letting you virtually introduce 3D renderings of chairs and tables into your space so you know what they’ll look like before you order. If you’re planning to gift your family room a new, comfier couch, search Google and open the Shopping tab. You’ll see all the items that match your search and every angle of the AR-compatible products (they have a 3D icon in the upper left corner of their image). If you want to see how a piece looks in your place, tap the image and choose View in my space to let the magic happen. The company has said the same feature is available for shoes, but because it’s relatively new, you may not see it on many items yet. Google plans to expand it to work with other clothing items, too.
But the holidays are not only about shopping—they’re also about eating. And you’re hosting this year, you might be dreading the prospect of banishing yourself to the kitchen for hours before your guests arrive. Google can help you cheat by tracking down specific dishes you can order from restaurants near you.
Sophia Lin, general manager of food for Google Search, says the company’s research shows that 40 percent of people already have a dish in mind when they search for takeout. If this has happened to you, you know what comes next: digging through endless menus from countless places and crossing your fingers that they have what you’re hungry for. Now, if you have something in mind for a big holiday dinner or even a quick craving, you can look for the name of the dish along with the words “near me,” and then choose which restaurant you want to order it from. The feature is especially useful if your guests have requested specific dishes you don’t know how to make or can’t be bothered to cook—like their mom’s very specific recipe for garlicky roasted yams.
If there’s a hard-to-find item on your shopping list this year, you’re probably already dreading the hunt. You’re better off letting a bot do the heavy lifting for you.
Inventory Bot is an app that tracks hard-to-find items and entire product categories for you. You won’t need to keep the app open for it to work, and the app will let you know when an item—either a highly coveted one or something more specific—is back in stock so you can swoop in and take it home.
To get live push notifications on your phone, you’ll need to pay a subscription starting at $4.99 a month, but you’ll get a three-day free trial first. If you decide this cuts too deeply into your holiday budget, you can still track items for free and get notifications via the app’s specialized Twitter accounts (@BotConsoles for gaming, and @InvbotFunko for Funko Pop figurines, for example). But keep in mind that these posts go live with a delay of 45 to 90 seconds, so if you’re looking for a precious item that might be off the shelves as soon as it’s available, you might want to pay for a subscription.
A useful feature that sets Inventory Bot apart from other item-tracking platforms is the ability to automate your checkout. This means that as soon as your item is back in stock, you can authorize the app to buy the item for you. This is only possible with some retailers that partner with the platform, like Amazon and Walmart, among others, but the development team says there are more to come.