I’ve always been a huge fan of the scanners at Macy’s that enable you to find out the actual price of an item after all the discounts have been calculated. Not only is it empowering to know what an awesome deal you’re getting, but it also makes shopping much more fun and interactive.

There are several mobile apps that have taken this concept one step further by allowing shoppers to comparison shop, i.e., to scan a barcode and search the internet for all the stores and websites that have that item available for purchase.

As a born-and-bred bargain shopper, this is exactly the kind of app I’m looking for to simplify my life. So I checked out two free ones: ShopSavvy and Red Laser.

Both are similar in the way they use the technology. Basically, you use the built-in camera on your phone to “scan” any barcode for its information. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, though. You have to hold your phone extremely still for it to actually register, and you need to be careful there aren’t any shadows in the way. The scanners also don’t work so well in dim lighting.

On both, once the barcode is registered, they come up with a list of prices and places where you can find that item (including websites and nearby stores). Each one has a couple unique features too. For example, ShopSavvy allows you to register for price alerts, in case you prefer to wait for an item’s price to drop, and RedLaser lets you email searches to yourself.

Of the two, my preference goes to RedLaser, though. It goes beyond just being a price-checker by offering additional useful information. For example, it’s got a book-scanning function that tells you if a book is available at your neighborhood library. But perhaps the most awesome feature of all is its nutrition and health facts function, which lets you know about food allergens.

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