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New shopping tools chase the best prices

NEW YORK ­— Jen Hughes used to have the time to hunt for online coupon codes and ­refresh her Web browser to see if the clothes she wanted had gone on sale yet. But after she had her first child, she said, trying to track e-commerce prices had to go.

‘‘I spend my day chasing my daughter around, so I don’t have the luxury of sitting at my computer,’’ said Hughes, 29, of Reading, Mass. Many sites ‘‘have sales every other day, but I don’t have time to go on and see if the things I actually want have made it onto the sale yet.’’

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Now she doesn’t have to.

With retailers’ Internet prices changing more often — sometimes several times within the space of a day — a new group of tools is helping shoppers outwit the stores. Rather than requiring shoppers to do the work by entering an item into price-comparison engines throughout the day, the tools automatically scan for price changes and alert customers when the price drops.

Some tools, including one from Citibank’s Citi Card, even scour sites for lower prices after a purchase and help customers get a refund for any price difference.

Websites that help shoppers compare prices and track online deals have existed as long as e-commerce itself. But rapid changes in pricing at many major retailers have made it more difficult for shoppers to keep on top of it all.

The research company ­Dynamite Data, which follows prices on behalf of retailers and brands, tracked hundreds of holiday products at retailers in 2011 and 2012. During a two-week period around Thanksgiving, Amazon and Sears were changing prices on about a quarter of those products daily. Walmart, Toys ‘‘R’’ Us, Kmart, and Best Buy also changed prices more frequently in 2012.

Even the Web browser a customer uses can make a difference. The website Digital Folio, which shows consumers price changes, did side-by-side comparisons of televisions. On Newegg using the Chrome browser, the firm was offered a $997 price on a Samsung television. Using Firefox and Internet Explorer, the price was $1,399.

The firm found a difference on another Samsung television model at Walmart.com, where using Firefox yielded a $199 price and Chrome and Internet Explorer $168.

One of the new price-tracking tools is Hukkster, introduced last year. It asks shoppers to install a ‘‘hukk it’’ button on their browsers. When a shopper sees an item she likes, she clicks the button, chooses the color, size, and discount she is interested in, tells Hukkster to alert her when the price drops, and waits for an e-mail to that effect.

Hukkster also looks for coupon codes that apply to specific items, so a J.Crew nightshirt that was originally $128 came out to $62.99 after a site markdown combined with a 30 percent discount code that Hukkster found.

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