Mobile apps help make holiday shopping quicker and more affordable.

5 awesome apps for holiday shopping success

Though Black Friday weekend is widely viewed as the official kickoff to the busiest shopping season of the year, Americans got a running head start on their holiday wish lists this year. Nearly 60% of consumers say they began their shopping in November, according to a National Retail Federation survey. That's up from slightly less than 55% in 2014 and 49% in 2008.

Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO, indicated that with tons of information literally available at buyers' fingertips, more consumers are taking advantage. He explained that change is happening over how, when, where, and why people shop during the holidays.

"Consumers today are looking for great prices and value-add promotions earlier than ever before, and retailers have answered these demands in several different ways already this holiday season," Shay added.

Nowhere is this more evident than with mobile devices, as everyone seems to have one at the ready when perusing shopping aisles. Among millennials, nearly 90% use their smartphone or tablet as a resource to "tap" into when holiday shopping, based on a poll done by retail market research firm Wanderful Media.

Retail chains, department stores, and consumer shopping websites have a wide array of apps that help buyers come up with gift ideas, land deep discounts, and determine if their local store is supplied with the season's most-wanted merchandise. However, with literally millions of apps available to download, how do you determine which ones are the best? The following are five popular apps that can help you put a wrap on your holiday shopping spree:

1. PriceGrabber

With a name like "price grabber," you know what you're getting with this app. The website, founded in 1999 – making it a veteran in the price-comparison universe – enables buyers to price and compare merchandise from a variety of retailers. The app features side-by-side comparisons using a database from dozens of major consumer shopping companies like Amazon, Overstock.com, Best Buy, and Walmart. Also, with a smartphone, the app allows you to scan UPC barcodes while shopping, making it a more interactive way to compare prices.

2. RedLaser

With a retailer database numbering in the thousands – including the likes of Barnes and Noble, Target, Toys R Us, and eBay – RedLaser is similar to PriceGrabber, in that it allows users to scan products' bar codes to see how prices stack up among competitors. Additionally, the app serves as an alternative payment device, where you can store mobile cash to make the transaction process a breeze.

3. Clutch

An athlete who makes a game-saving catch on the baseball diamond or football field is is known as a clutch player. The Clutch app, meanwhile, does a different type of saving but is similarly indispensable by storing coupons, loyalty cards, and gift cards. In doing so, users can save themselves money, not to mention the time and energy associated with maintaining coupon clippings and paper-based certificates.

4. RetailMeNot

Calling itself the world's largest marketplace for digital offers, RetailMeNot is very similar to Clutch by serving as a storage device for discounts that are advertised in circulars, magazines, or in-store. Once you check out at the register, simply whip out your smartphone or handheld device, accompanied by the appropriate bar code the RetailMeNot app saves. The app is free to download at its website or via Apple and Android devices.

5. Pounce

Instead of using your smartphone to snap a "selfie" while roaming the aisles, point the camera lens to a price advertised on store shelves. In doing so, with the Pounce app enabled, you can buy the item right then and there – avoiding long lines at cash-out registers. Alternatively, you can also use Pounce to buy from home if you see a price in a printed advertisement.

Consumer Reports has a few other apps that can help make your holiday buying experience much more manageable.