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How the iPhone has changed the way we shop

Marco Tabini | Aug. 1, 2013
The iPhone can be a valuable ally in making shopping slightly less agonizing.

Having an iPhone in your pocket, however, turns this process on its head. You can quickly analyze and compare an item in one store against a multitude of other stores, both traditional and online, either via the Web or through one of many apps built for just this purpose; some of them, such as Amazon Mobile and eBay's Red Laser, even allow you to find products by taking a picture of their UPC barcodes.

This ability to meld the traditional retail experience with the wealth of information available on the Internet makes it easier than ever to be a smart shopper; even if you ultimately decide that the immediacy of the brick-and-mortar purchase is worth a small premium over buying online, you can still make well-informed decisions on the spot.

An express espresso
Once you've decided to buy something, you need to pay for it. Using cash requires figuring out the right combination of banknotes and coins, followed by waiting for the cashier to count your change. Even paying by card is often complicated by the fact that an overwhelming number of cash registers are seemingly unable to automatically differentiate between credit and debit tender.

Apple's Passbook, however, can make the payment process smooth and quick. Even better, it helps you keep track of everything you buy, making participation in loyalty programming and expense tracking much easier. Despite Passbook's somewhat shaky start, more and more companies, like AirBnB and even the McDonald's French subsidiary are allowing customers to use it for everything from renting a room to grabbing lunch, while other companies, like Boston-based LevelUp are turning it into a veritable virtual wallet.

Nowhere is Passbook's potential more obvious than at any of the average neighborhood's two dozen Starbucks. With my iPhone in hand, I can order and pay in a matter of seconds--at least on days when the customer in front of me isn't ordering a 30-syllable beverage. While I don't love Starbucks' coffee, the level of convenience that Passbook provides keeps me a loyal customer.

No more lines
Of course, I would much prefer not having to deal with lines at all, and this is where the iPhone has changed my shopping experience most of all.

Visits to one of Apple's retail locations used to be a fun affair; the staff is knowledgeable, the atmosphere is great, and watching so many nontechnical people browse and eagerly buy all sorts of electronic gear is a pleasure. Of late, however, the stores tend to be very busy, with the result that catching the attention of an employee can be challenging, and even simple purchases take longer than they should.


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