RedLaser – consumer app of the week

App: RedLaser

By: The app was created by Occipital in May 2009 and sold to eBay in June 2010.

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone and iPod touch (requires iOS 4.0 or later). There are plans to roll the app out to Android and Symbian-powered devices.

What is it?

RedLaser is an app that scans the barcode on an item and searches for the cheapest place to buy it.

Who is it by?

Occipital is a Boulder-based technology firm. It launched RedLaser last year before selling it to eBay, which now owns it outright. Ebay has since made RedLaser free and added eBay items to the search results. The app has been downloaded more than 4m times.

What does it promise?

"RedLaser is a barcode-scanning application for comparison shopping and finding product information using a mobile device. The state-of-the-art barcode scanning technology was created specifically to deal with non-autofocus cameras, and continues to evolve with innovative mobile visual capabilities."

How does it work?

Launch the app, click on the "flash" symbol and scan the barcode in front of you. Scans (and the resulting searches) are automatically stored, though easy to delete. You can make any individual search a "favourite", which effectively creates a wish list. If you click on a search result you will be taken to a web page where you can order the item. That's pretty much it.

Is it easy to use?

Yes, it's idiot proof. That said, there is nothing in the way of a help screen in case you do have problems.

Is it fun?

Saving money is always fun, isn't it? The easily addicted might find it all-too-easy to scan away relentlessly while out and about on the high street.

Is it pretty?

The RedLaser logo is striking – a scarlet-red background overlaid with a renegade white barcode, crossed horizontally with a dramatic red laser beam. But that's where the prettiness begins and ends. Once launched the app is dull in the extreme, with little in the way of design features. It doesn't even have a welcome screen.

Should you download it?

It's free (something that is fast becoming a pre-requisite for consumer app of the week) so that's a major plus point. But does it work? It required another field trip to test …

In Boots we picked up a 50ml bottle of Olay Total Effects 7X Serum which was £18.99. RedLaser told us it was £15.99 on Amazon and £16.30 with

In Foyles bookshop we picked up Freedom by Jonathan Franzen priced at £20, but the app found it for us for £9.29 at Walfords UK and £12 in WH Smith. The cheapest eBay result (the auction site's results are delivered in a special section, as you'd expect given eBay owns the app) was £7.99 new, meaning RedLaser could have saved me 60%.

Similarly, Foyles had David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet for £12 compared to RedLaser's cheapest finds: £8.18 at BulkBuyBooks, £8.70 at Pickabook and £9.74 at This gave a maximum saving of 47%. However, one drawback is that some of the search results RedLaser throws up either don't work, take you to pages that are faulty, or produce results that are not suited to individual consumers.

For example, when I clicked on the link to buy Freedom at Walfords UK, the Walfords site said the product was unavailable (and listed the publication date as 1 January 1970, but that's a separate issue). In fact, when I searched for Walfords UK online I couldn't find anything. The URL given for Walfords via the app took me to a domain name-holding page, so I tried a version and it finally took me to a site that looked correct, but wasn't working either. So whatever Walfords UK is, it is currently of little use to UK shoppers.

When I clicked on the BulkBuyBooks result for David Mitchell's novel, I realised that I could only get that best price if I bought at least 21 copies of the book – BulkBuyBooks clearly does exactly what it says on the tin.

I think the RedLaser app works best merely as a reference tool to find out the rough range of prices available on an item online and in stores, so the user can make an educated guess as to whether they should make a purchase or not. If you are going to act on Red Laser's recommendations, you will either need access to a range of shops on the high street or enough patience to order your purchase online and wait for delivery.

Of course, if you are going to buy something online chances are you would do the research online too, rather than head to the shops and begin scanning items. This is especially true for big-ticket items such as TVs, white goods and computer-related goods.

RedLaser is hit and miss, then. With Christmas shopping about to fill up most people's schedules for the next few weeks, it's probably worth a download (it is free after all), but I'd file it among those apps you might delete sharpish should it not prove sufficiently useful.

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