Attention, shoppers: If you just decided to join the Black Friday shopping crunch but didn’t prepare well, don’t despair: Just pick up your smartphone. It could be your new best friend. Even if you haven’t invested a week or more reading sales circulars, you can play catch up with the latest mobile shopping applications.

Loaded properly, your phone can help you ensure that the “deal” in front of you really is a deal. It can help you find out what other consumers think of a product before you buy it - or figure out where to buy that hot toy on the biggest shopping day of the year. If you’ve got a target price in mind, you can set your phone to alert you when the gift you’re eyeing hits that price at a store near you.

“Information is power,” says Jeff Goldstein, president of PriceGrabber, a web service (with app) that collects pricing from about 4,000 retailers. The apps are available on iPhones through the iTunes App Store, and Android users should go to Google Play. Several apps like Fat Wallet’s Black Friday App, Black Friday 2013 Ads and DealNews’s Black Friday App give consumers the opportunity to search advertised deals. You can view specific stores or certain products and look at copies of printed ads or scroll through a list of deals on a particular product, like digital cameras. You also use the apps to build shopping lists.

Once you’ve found the sales, you want to make sure you load up on coupons. Retailmenot, CouponCabin and CouponSherpa all deliver discount coupons, and many of which can now be simply flashed at the cash register, where the bar code can be scanned from your phone. If you’re serious, you’ll download all three: “They don’t all have the same deal,” notes Brandon Hunt, co-founder of the site DealScience.com, which collects and sorts deals from top coupon offering sites.–AFP