Mobile Savings Apps: How Back-to-School Shopping is Changing

Ten years ago, we sat next to our parents while they flipped through the Sunday newspaper looking for back to school deals, picking out the newest school supplies and must have backpacks to check off our supply lists. As technology became more of a centerpiece for mass advertising, television commercials and billboards were the next big thing. Today, smart phone apps are beginning to change the way we tackle back to school shopping lists, making the once tedious process more accessible and fun for the entire family.


Major corporations like Target and Wal-Mart are appealing to digital natives and the “tech savvy” with their apps, Cartwheel and Savings Catcher. These companies, already well known for their low prices, have branded their apps to make it easier for their customers to get the deal. According to Target, Cartwheel users have already saved $107,297,608- and counting! Not only do these apps help you save on everyday items, the more you access the app the more savings opportunities you’ll receive. Cartwheel invites users to “play more save more” to unlock “offer spots” that were otherwise not available. The Wal-Mart Savings Catcher allows you to compare their deals to other stores and guarantee to match any lower price you find. Not only will using these apps save you money, they’ll save you time and make back-to-school shopping more interactive.

While it’s easy to recognize apps created by these major corporations, apps like Key Ring are making a name for themselves in the mobile savings world. Although not tied to any major brand, the Key Ring app has become popular as one of the most helpful when it comes to savings. Creator, Chris Fagan, released on the apps website that in its first year on the market Key Ring had 400,000 installs. That number quickly grew to 1,000,000, and now stands at more than 10,000,000 four years later. Unlike Cartwheel and the Savings Catcher, Key Ring’s interactive experience goes one step further. By allowing you to make and share shopping lists, view deals from multiple retailers, store your existing loyalty rewards cards, and scan barcodes on the spot users can organize and complete their back-to-school shopping with ease.


As the motive for discount shopping opportunities increases, easier access through mobile apps gratifies the modern shopper’s needs. The Uses and Gratifications Approach explains how individuals actively seek out media to satisfy their individual needs. Like with back-to-school shopping, mobile apps allow you to search and apply discounts directly to the items you need faster than the hours spent cutting coupons in the past. As digital natives we ask ourselves: Why would we spend hours scouring newspaper clippings when we can access thousands of discounts with the touch of a finger anywhere we are?

Angelica DiPaolo, Morganne McIntyre, Anderson McNaull, Madeline O’Connor, Rachel White

23 thoughts on “Mobile Savings Apps: How Back-to-School Shopping is Changing

  1. The play more save more concept is unbelievable. I was aware of similar concepts on the computer but I was unaware that mobile applications were beginning to do this as well. Why not though? Every company wants to take the most advantage possible by the ever growing technology and the ones that are the most successful in this will also have the most successful profit. During times like back to school month or black Friday, apps like these will truly shine.

  2. This is a good initial connection with an important theory. Nice extension of the theory from traditional media to social. Go further with the specifics a bit but also keep a keen eye on the possible downsides or tensions. Yes, it does seem like we are “in charge” of such devices and apps, but is there any way that corporations are extending their control over us in this exchange? I don’t have an easy answer but it’s something to look for. Also, how does this discussion impact IMC? Can we incorporate Uses and Gratification into our approach to IMC challenges? Do apps now represent a major strategy option?

    • Dr. Olsen,
      You make a valid point that although the app users feel in control, the various large corporations are constantly collecting data on these consumers and predicting which items they may also be interested in. The Uses and Gratification approach discusses how these consumers use mass communication (smart phone apps) to satisfy their needs, which in this case includes savings on products. Data collection and usage patterns via savings apps and corporate websites allow companies to cater to the consumer’s wants and needs. As our society becomes more digital and less into newspapers, we believe the demand for mobile savings apps will continue to rise in efforts to save people a few bucks on their next visit to an array of stores.

  3. I see so much truth in this post! I have a whole page on my iPhone just for apps that give me coupons for specific stores. I would like to see the new generation of extreme couponers. I think I will try out that key chain app.

    • I agree. It is amazing how convenient apps have made the shopping experience. You can pull a coupon out from your phone while you’re standing in the check out line. It truly is awesome.

  4. This post defiantley shows how tech savvy people have become in recent years. I personally do not indulge in shopping apps nor do I use coupons. After reading this post I think I will download the Key Ring app. I love how the app shows competing retailers prices and has the ability to share shopping lists with other people. I love the idea of creating community through technology. Really great post!

  5. I think that this is a fine idea. We use our phones for virtually everything. Saving money is always a good idea. It does seem that everything is slowly becoming electronically accessible, so coupons should be as well. This also allows parents to access the coupons from anywhere. So if you’re one of those busy single parents, accessing the coupons from your phone will make everything a lot easier. Not only is this method more practical, it will cause a lot more people to use coupons especially if they are readily available in the palm of their hand.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this article and think that is definitely the future of advertising deals and coupons. My mo is an extreme coupon er and uses these apps on regular basis. I will be very glad to see how much money people can save when it used by the majority.

  7. I love the idea of having coupons on your phone! I have various apps like Campus Special, which are awesome for last minute deal for pizza or oil change! It has the deal every college kid needs on there. I would love to give the key chain app a try on my phone. I want a good deal on almost everything i purchase and I think this would be a good way to find it.

  8. I will say that this app seems to be awesome for shoppers to save money in anyway that they can. It may even be an app that I would be interested in also. On the other hand I must agree with Dr. O’s comment about is there any ways that the corporations are extending their control over us in the exchange? That is a key question I had in my mind after reading about the app.

  9. This is a great post that I relate to so much. As a college student, I wanted to save money any way I could. However, I do not get a newspaper but I was told about Target’s Cartwheel app and downloaded it. Now I have several apps for different stores that all offer me great coupons!

  10. I use the Cartwheel app at target and save money nearly every time I go there! It definitely makes sense that savings apps are keeping up with our growing use of technology, but I do kind of miss waiting for the ads in the Sunday paper like my sister and I always did as kids.

  11. Growing up I have seen such a growth when it comes to technology, especially the increase of smartphone usage. Getting coupons on your phone is a very convenient way and in this day of age everyone is always looking for the easy way to do things. I won’t lie, I have recently gotten into using Groupon frequently. It’s easy to download on your phone, plus the benefits of daily deals in your local area along with goods that you can purchase and get sent directly to you. Whenever it first came out I was’t into really looking for deals, but as I got older it’s always nice to save money. I have also downloaded apps that allow gift cards to be stored on your phone and all they have to do is scan the barcode from your smartphone. Overall the convenience of these apps appeal to us and that’s why they have become so popular recently and they will only continue to increase in popularity.

  12. The time span of the transition from coupon booklets to i phones is astonishing. Although I don’t use apps to get coupons, my parents and all my roommates do. I love how both younger and older generations are benefiting from this advancement in technology. I only see these apps getting more convenient and user friendly in the future. After reading this post, I definitely will consider using the key chain app.

  13. This post showed something that is new for me. It was really interesting to read it. The companies in the Netherlands (where I am from) can learn a lot from this. We do not have and use so many coupons than they do in the US. I think it would be a great opportunity for companies to create that kind of an app. Especially because people from the Netherlands love discounts! It also offers a lot of advantages, as written in the blog, and it is a step further in technology. In some way people get more connected when they have an app of a company because basically your company is in a customers pocket, how much closer could you get to a customer?

  14. The key chain app is amazing. I use it and I am almost completely in love. I say almost because I have encountered a minor flaw. Not all retail outlets are equipped with the right technology on there end. I work at J C Penny’s and our scanners are old school. When a customer comes the register wanting to use the key chain app to get his or her rewards I have to type in the number because our scanners can’t read off of the screen. It is the same when they have coupons on their phone. We are almost there! All the technologies are aligning, slowly but surely.

  15. I completely agree that back to school shopping now a days is so much easier than how it was when I was in elementary school. These new apps make is so much easier to find coupons and deals with specific supplies on them. iPhone apps help Moms keep their kids different back to school shopping lists separate and organized.

  16. I think that this app is something that has been in the making for a while now. I have never been one to sit down and cut coupons out from the newspaper, but I will every now and again do a quick google search, let’s say if I am at the Gap, to see if there are any promotional codes, or coupons that could be emailed to me, or even sometimes it is as easy as showing the cashieer your phone. This app seems like something that could potentially be very useful and time saving for many families who depend on the aid of coupons to stay within their budget.
    On the other side, I feel that this app could have the potential to invade personal privacy, and could actually lead companies to increase their prices, just so that the consumer “thinks” that what they are getting is a good deal. When in fact the company just increased the prices so that you could use their coupon and still make the same amount of money in the end. It is a game that the companies understand and feed into. They understand that people will be more apt to spend money if they are able to justify it because they “used a coupon,” so apps that make coupons readily available are not only of interest to the consumer but in a sneaky sort of way the company. There’s no telling where this coupon revolution may lead, but I have a feeling that shows like Extreme Couponing, or Extreme Cheapskates, has glamorized a once necessary practice for families, into a game to see how much we (as consumers) can get and for how cheap.

  17. I am obsessed with the Cartwheel app by Target. I look almost everyday at what new deals they have. Every time I want to buy something, I check my Cartwheel to see if I can get a good deal on it at Target. So naturally, I went to Target for my school supplies because they have a specific section on the app for “Back-to-School”. I found it a very convenient way to do my school supplies shopping this year.

  18. School shopping is an experience that most students look forward to at the beginning of each year. It is fascinating to watch the change in back to school shopping trends. Technology has undoubtedly dramatically impacted our lives in many ways. It only makes sense that it would impact this area as well. Companies know that the best way to get people involved in things is to make it fun. That is what these apps provide, along with tons of savings. Add the two together and you have the perfect combination.

  19. I could not agree more that even in regards to using coupons, we have changed so much in how we go about saving money. I use the Cartwheel app all of the time for Target and I absolutely love it! I really can not stand paying extra for something when I can use a coupon for it. I have never heard of the app Key Ring but I will definitely be looking into that and see how it can save me money in the long run.
    I remember looking up coupons with my mom in elementary school from the Sunday newspaper. But now, when I need any supplies, my mom can print coupons on the computer or use an app and the savings is basically instantaneous.
    I really enjoyed reading this article and I can’t wait to try apps you listed that I have not been using.

  20. Yes! Please start moving towards digital incentives. I used to look forward in checking the mail everyday. This is not the case anymore. Too many retailers are spamming my inbox with promotional catalogs. E-friendly is where its at.

  21. It’s amazing to see how almost every brand is becoming more tech-savvy to keep up with our world. Extreme couponing is taken to a new level with apps, and successfully grabbing the attention of all demographics. I know my father is technologically impaired, but when he heard about the convenience of having apps that help you find the best deals, he was all ears.

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