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Amy Iverson: These apps can make your holiday shopping a lot easier

The new Pickup towers at Walmart have you out of the store in about 30 seconds.
The new Pickup towers at Walmart have you out of the store in about 30 seconds.
Amy Iverson, Walmart

The countdown is on to check everything off that holiday gift list. Luckily for us, a good chunk of the elves are tech savvy, making it easier for those who act as Santa’s helpers.

The Santa’s Bag app (free for iOS; softonic has similar apps for Android) is the go-to when it comes to organizing and keeping track of everyone on your nice list. First, set a budget for all your Christmas shopping and it lives right on the homepage, along with a Christmas countdown. Add gift recipients, ideas for purchases and how much you plan to spend on each one with links to websites, merchants and preferences for everyone on your list.

From that point, keep track of progress for each gift, marking off when the it's purchased or ordered, wrapped, and sent or given. One of the most helpful details for parents is a spot to note where you’ve placed the gift — and it’s all passcode protected. See all the tasks still left to do at a glance, so you’re never left wondering the status of any gift. Plus, the homepage keeps a running total, keeping you on budget. Santa’s Bag also saves the gift information each year so you don’t accidentally buy someone the same gift two years in a row.

Giftster makes it easy to share everybody's wish lists.
Giftster makes it easy to share everybody's wish lists.
Amy Iverson, Giftster

Giftster (free for iOS and Android) is a social gift registry app that works wonderfully for Christmas or any gift-giving occasion. Make your own personal wish list with the option of adding web links or an image with the price and where to buy the item. Then do the same for each of your kids, detailing sizes, hobbies and a section called “What Not To Get Me.” Invite friends and family to sign up for the app, create groups and decide on privacy settings. You can even add a gift idea to someone else’s gift list and that person will never know it’s there. This app is a great way to take the stress away from all those people wondering what you or your kids want for Christmas.

Walmart is doing its part to help ease the headache of holiday shopping with pick-up towers. If your Walmart has one, you can’t miss the giant tower next to bright lockers at the front of the store. When shoppers order online and choose the pick-up option, this futuristic contraption takes the place of having to wait in line at the pick-up counters of old. You’ll get an email with a pick-up time and confirmation barcode. Scan it at the tower, wait mere moments for a window in front of you to magically open, and take your package. Larger items are stored in the nearby lockers. In a recent phone interview, Walmart spokesperson Ragan Dickens says there will be 700 pick-up towers across the U.S. by the end of the year.

“Our goal is to provide options for customers,” he said, “and the entire transaction takes less than 30 seconds.”

Dickens outlined another high-tech innovation Walmart is using to reduce checkout times. When shopping at Super Centers, keep an eye out for associates wearing bright yellow sashes that say, “Check out with me.” They will have mobile checkout available for customers with credit and debit cards or Walmart Pay, no matter where they are in the store. This is a convenience shoppers have utilized for years at places like Apple or Nordstrom Rack, but how handy to have it at a big box store.

“Whether you’re buying a television in electronics, a lawn mower in the garden section, or a tube of toothpaste, you’ll be able to pay on the spot,” Dickens said.

And finally, more retailers are using tech to help customers envision what a piece of furniture or other home decor will look like in their own homes. Augmented reality is now available on more apps and websites using your phone’s camera. IKEA’s AR catalog lets you virtually place life-size 3D furniture in your home, and Amazon’s AR view has thousands of products to virtually place in your home. Through Safari, your phone can virtually help you preview products from Magnolia to ensure that farmhouse metal bucket looks just right on your side table.

Using these holiday tech tools can help keep you organized, calm and on target for the month ahead. Now get shopping.