NEW YORK (AP) — It's mid-August, and parents are scrambling to outfit their kids with backpacks, gadgets and jeans as the clock winds down toward the first day of school.
But don't fret. This season, stores are offering new services and apps to cater to time-starved, smartphone-savvy parents to help them save time and money during the annual shopping ritual.
The gimmicks include new twists on price matching, more choices for same-day delivery and expanded selections online.
"It's a lot easier to find a deal," said Michael Londrigan, dean of academic affairs at LIM College, a fashion college in New York. "It's saving customers a ton of time. It's allowing them to uncover hidden treasures that they wouldn't be able to do without the recent technology."
Parents seem to be playing the waiting game to get the best deal. According to the National Retail Federation's survey of 6,285 shoppers, the average family with children grades kindergarten through grade 12 had completed 49.9 percent of their back-to-school shopping as of Aug. 12. That's down slightly from 52.1 percent from last year at this time.
Mark LoCastro, a spokesman at Dealnews.com, which tracks online prices and sales, says procrastinators will be rewarded.
"This is a golden opportunity to stack coupons and deals," he added.
Coupon site Retailmenot, which works with 50,000 retailers online and in store, says the number of back-to-school coupons spiked nearly 60 percent in mid-July through mid-August, compared with last year.
Here are some tips on how to take advantage:
— NEW TWISTS ON PRICE-MATCHING: Shoppers have been able to get prices of items matched at stores like Best Buy and Target if they see it higher at rivals. But office-supply chain Staples Inc. sweetened its price-matching offer for back-to-school shoppers.
Staples will not only match prices but will take off an additional 10 percent of the difference between its price and a competitor's for an identical product. The offer ends the first week of September.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart just unveiled a new app for its online savings tool called Savings Catcher. The online tool allows customers to compare Wal-Mart's advertised prices on thousands of products with those of some competitors. If a lower price is found elsewhere, Wal-Mart refunds the difference in the form of a store credit.
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