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Ship or shop? Two good apps for the holiday buying season

Mobile apps from Slice and Goodzer take some of the pain out of holiday shopping.

I have two useful new mobile apps to recommend for those gearing up for the holiday gift shopping orgy that will soon be upon us.

Slice watches your mailbox for you. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Shipping tracker
First, Slice is releasing a mobile app. Slice is a useful utility that reaches into your Yahoo or Google e-mail inbox and extracts all the receipts that are sent to you. It gives you a list of everything you've bought online. It also collects all your shipping alerts and then tracks packages that are on their way. It will send you a nice alert when a package is out for delivery. If, like me, your packages are delivered to a post office box, this app will be useful in telling you when your stuff has arrived, so you can go get it.

Slice has a full-feature Web service that's good for looking up receipts of your online purchases, should you need them. It doesn't offer the cool warranty tracking and claiming service that WarrantyLife does, though. That's a pity.

See also OtherInBox, which does a very strong job of tracking receipts and offers you get in e-mail. It collects so much information, though, that receipts and ship alerts can get buried in its daily updates. Slice has more focus. Or if you want to go a little more manual, you can use the cool Twitter-based package tracker, TrackThis.

Goodzer will find items in stores that Google and eBay don't know about. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Shopping helper
If you want to get an item right the heck now, you need a local shopping search tool. A new one, Goodzer, just launched. It will search across more local stores in the U.S. than any other service, CEO Dmitry Pakhomkin claims, to find you what you are looking for in your neighborhood or city.

Goodzer is up against some fairly major competition: Google Products and eBay's Milo. But those services are different under the hood: They get data feeds from major resellers. Goodzer, by contrast, using a highly advanced (Pakhomkin says) Web site scraping technology to get inventory data from any retailer's Web site.

There is a big challenge for Goodzer's approach. Mom-and-pop retailers often don't have accurate in-store inventory data on their Web sites. The site and the app will display "Call for availability" when that's the case. Pakhomkin says that even that is a big service to retailers, and to consumers, since it will help shoppers "discover" local stores they might not have considered or even known about.

He has a point. I ran a few tests and discovered some local stores that I didn't know about. However, my testing also revealed that Goodzer didn't list inventory at some of the major retailers for which Google and Milo did. I did test the app a day before public launch, so Pakhomkin's claim to have "the inventory for the whole United States in one place," may yet come to pass. But it looks like you may actually still need the big boys' apps if you want to check inventory at all the big retailers--and this nice little app if you want to search local businesses.