Nearly every time I walk into the local drugstore to buy toothpaste, I walk out having spent around $50 on miscellaneous items.
Sound familiar? Impulse buying is a tough habit to kick. But smartphones might hold a few possible remedies for consumers in the form of free price-comparison apps.
NetPlenish, made by the company of the same name, is a free app for Apple’s iOS or Android devices. Using a smartphone camera, it scans the bar codes on household items and pulls in competing prices from different online vendors, like Target.com and Walmart.com.
Once you’ve selected the products you want, the app makes the rest of the decisions for you, working behind the scenes to fulfill your order at the best possible price from the various online retailers. With a couple of clicks, you buy the goods and have them shipped to your home.
Apps that aggregate and compare item prices for you aren’t new. Google Shopper, Amazon Price Check and ShopSavvy are just a few of the apps that let you scan barcodes in stores and find the same items online for comparable or lesser prices. Google Shopper even pulls up results for local stores, not just online listings. These apps can be incredibly helpful for consumers, provided they’re willing to wait for shipping; and can be a nightmare for brick-and-mortar retailers.
But these don’t package together your orders for you or promise to find you better deals on bundles the way NetPlenish does.
I’ve been using NetPlenish for the past five days, scanning more than a dozen household items. I’ve also used Google Shopper and Amazon Price Check on the same items. NetPlenish scanned items quickly and had a simple check-out process.
But I found that shipping fees sometimes counteracted the money the app saved me, and NetPlenish didn’t say exactly when my goods would arrive. The Android app has flags indicating whether you’ll pay for shipping or whether you qualify for free shipping; the iOS app will be updated to include these flags later this week. The app is also missing a couple other key features that would improve the experience, like an option for manually drafting a shopping list before heading to stores. I relied on the Notes app on my iPhone for this, and kept switching back and forth from that and the app.
After signing up and tying my debit card to the account, I was ready to start scanning. I used NetPlenish in a local drugstore, in a grocery store and at a local Target, price-checking everything from paper towels to bleach to boxes of granola bars.
The app is easy to use. The Grab Item tab is for scanning. Almost immediately after I pointed my phone at an item, the app would capture the bar code and begin searching online vendors. I’ve used a handful of bar code scanners in the past, and this one worked the fastest for me — I usually had results in less than 10 seconds. NetPlenish pulls results from over a dozen online vendors, including Target, Walgreens, Kmart, Walmart, Sephora and PetSmart.
From there, I could chose to add the items to My List, for purchasing later, or add them directly to My Cart, where I would eventually check out with one click.
At a Duane Reade pharmacy, I scanned a bottle of Clorox bleach that was $2.99 in the store. NetPlenish found me a bottle for $1.99 at Target.com. Boxes of pasta that were $2.15 on the grocery store shelf could be found for $1.29, also at Target.com, according to NetPlenish.
NetPlenish shows both the best price available that day and the average price offered through its online vendors. Once I clicked “Check Out,” NetPlenish sent a confirmation email, then acted as a kind of personal shopper for me, sniffing out the best prices. A few minutes later, I received a confirmation email my order had been fulfilled. One such order showed that my items would come from both Target.com and Drugstore.com.
When users first place an order through NetPlenish, they agree to pay a certain amount that is the absolute maximum. In my case, my first order of a box of hair dye and a candle had a maximum price of just over $30. Then, when NetPlenish fulfilled that order for me, it sent a follow-up email pointing out that it found me a deal for $4 less than the maximum.
But with NetPlenish, I got so caught up in finding deals that I ended up paying more for shipping.
For example, I scanned some items that are either notoriously expensive — like sunscreen — or items that come in bulk, like soap, toilet paper and bottled water. NetPlenish found me a giant bottle of sunscreen at a good price, a 12-pack of toilet paper that was a dollar less than the in-store listing and an eight-pack of soap for $2 less. Tacked onto my order for $10 sunscreen and a $4 case of water was an $11 shipping fee — so I paid more than $25 for what would have been $21.84 in store. (It turned out that the best deal on sunscreen, by the way, was on Amazon.com.)
NetPlenish said it is working with vendors to lower shipping costs — or to offer free shipping, especially if a customer buys in bulk.
NetPlenish’s biggest flaw is that it currently doesn’t tell the user how long the delivery is going to take. The company says most items should arrive within two days to four days, but that wasn’t conveyed either in my order confirmation emails or anywhere else in my account. With companies like Amazon offering its Prime subscribers free two-day shipping — and making that option apparent next to certain items on its site — anything other than clear communication about shipping seems unsophisticated.
In my experience, most of the items I ordered arrived in three or four days. But there are two items I’m still waiting on.
NetPlenish also doesn’t show results for cheaper options at stores right in the neighborhood, the way Google Shopper does. NetPlenish said it will be adding search functionality, which is already available in the Android app, into the iOS version — so that users can search for a specific product — but it still won’t tie in nearby brick-and-mortar results.
Later this week, NetPlenish’s Web site, which is currently just a place for users to manage their accounts, will become a full-fledged e-commerce Web site. The company also plans to add opt-in notifications that remind users that it has been a couple weeks since they’ve ordered diapers, or a few months since they’ve purchased laundry detergent, based on users’ buying patterns.
NetPlenish approaches comparison shopping in a unique way, though it’s in its early stages and has some work to do. It’s an app worth trying if you don’t have an urgent need for items, but I wouldn’t rely on it as your sole comparison shopping app right now.