There are those for whom shopping is an end itself -- and not a means to an end. Entering the mall instantly lowers the blood pressure, browsing melts away the tension in their necks and completing the purchase causes a spike in serotonin.
Then there's the rest of us. When we enter the mall at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 24, we're not just racing the imminent holiday closing time; we're also racing the migraine headache threatening to kick in each time we inhale a breath of Cinnabon-flavored air.
What would really help us is a hand-held device that would point out which store has the best deal on a pair of Nikes. Or something that could tell you if there's a better price for that book on the Internet. Actually, thanks to a couple of Web-based services, there already is such a device. It's called your phone.
Alex Muller is part of our tribe. Eleven months ago, he found the vacuum he needed for $80 at a hardware store in New York. He wasn't sure if the price was good, but he had no way of knowing without visiting several other stores and prolonging his shopping trip. So he bought it.
"I always want to get the best deal, but I'm too impatient to go from store to store to store," he said recently. A few days later, he saw the same vacuum selling for $25 cheaper at Home Depot.
At that moment, he hatched the idea for slifter, a Web site that would let customers check the prices of items in nearby stores from their phones. It works like this: Access the Web site through your Internet-enabled phone. Enter a product name and the zip code of where you're shopping. The site produces a list of nearby stores and a few Web sites that carry the item, along with the prices.
So far the two-month-old site only lists about 500 retailers in the New York area -- predominantly athletic wear stores -- along with e-commerce sites Overstock and Shop.com. But Muller says deals with more retailers are in the works, and promises a wider range of stores by Thanksgiving, just in time for holiday shopping.
Another site, is the perfect antidote to that uneasiness we always feel when we're at a store, about to pay 18 bucks for a CD or 30 for a new hardback book, wondering if there's a better deal on the Internet. Now you can find out without leaving the store.
Ringfo allows customers to use a cell phone to find out how much it sells for on Amazon. Todd Pinkerton, who develops mobile phone applications by day, created the site with a friend on nights and weekends.
"We shop online all the time, and we really like having that information available to us all the time," Pinkerton said. In a year and a half, the site has attracted about 1,300 users.
Still looking for shopping help? Google also lets people search for Internet deals through their Web-capable phone. Or a service that lets people search for deals on the Internet by sending and receiving text messages.
asap reporter Jonathan Drew is too busy drunk-dialing his ex girlfriends to use his phone for shopping.