The other day, I picked my son up from first grade and took him on a mission to find a torque wrench that had a 1⁄4" drive.
First we drove to Lowes; they didn’t have one. Then we drove to The Home Depot, nothing. Got back in the truck and drove to several more stores, no luck!
After about seven stops, my son says, with the most condescending voice he could muster, "Dad, why don’t you just buy it on Amazon?"
What this 6-year-old knows is that online shopping is easy and saves time. The downside is you have to wait to get the product.
On this particular occasion I wanted the wrench that day. I also like spending time with my son, and shopping for tools is a manly bonding experience.
Turns out a 1⁄4" drive torque wrench is a rare item. I ended up buying it on Amazon from my phone in the McDonald’s drive-through. (Happy meal reward for him tolerating seven cycles of seat belt frustration.)
If I hadn’t been looking for a reason to kill a few hours with my son, I’d have done this search in a completely different way. I would have done it with apps.
Many retailers have mobile apps that allow you to buy products. Most of them show you what’s in stock at your local store, eliminating the need to drive or call.
The Lowes app is a great example. The app searches any product Lowes sells. A search term like "tool box" will return a list of available products. Tapping the "in-store" button narrows the results to what’s in stock locally. It even shows you the isle and bin number and a store map with its exact location.
I also use apps by Grainger, Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot, Best Buy and Staples to find products carried in my local stores.
Searching through five different apps looking for a product in stock can also be time consuming. Another way of doing it is through Google Shopping.
Enter a Google search like "Toner Cartridge" from your desktop or mobile web browser. At the top of the page pick the "Shopping" link. Tap the "refine" button and select "In stock nearby."
Google will display only products available in your area. Clicking a product brings up a page with its description, reviews, and prices for local and online stores. Clicking "In Stock Nearby" shows the local stores and product availability.
My search for "Toner Cartridge" showed the product in stock at my local Office Depot. Clicking the store address gave me directions via Google Maps, and clicking the phone number would open the "phone" app if I wanted to call for more information.
Next time you need to find something in town, save yourself time and gas—shop with apps. By the way, kids prefer playing to shopping for tools, but they like playing on the iPad best. If only we could turn product search into a game…
The Gas Buddy App
Since we are talking about gas, Gas Buddy is an app that helps you save money on gas and diesel. The Gas Buddy app shows prices for gas and diesel at stations near you.
These prices are posted by other Gas Buddy users. The app sorts the list by distance or price. It also allows you to filter the results by brand or features like air, car wash, store, truck stop, and many others.
Once you decide on a station, the app provides directions on how to get there. This app is especially great on road trips.
Other retailer’s apps can be found in your app marketplace.
Dino Giacomazzi is the fourth genera-tion to manage his family’s dairy farm near Hanford, Calif. Contact him at email@example.com.