The social justice protests of 2011 seem far away, especially for people who eat cottage cheese – or any other manufactured food product. The mass protests, set off by Israelis who decried the high cost of cottage cheese and other dairy products in Israel, had a temporary effect on prices – but food costs, most Israeli consumers will tell you, are as high as ever.
But the protests did have one lasting legacy – and an Israeli app called Pricez is taking full advantage of it, helping the hundreds of thousands who have downloaded it to save money every time they shop. Pricez, said Asaf Chai, marketing director for the app. “Pricez can help consumers save hundreds of shekels on each shopping trip by directing them to the stores where the products they need are the cheapest. We see the app as our response to the social justice protests, using the database that the large supermarket chains are required to update with their current prices.”
The summer of 2011 saw tens of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets in protest against what many felt were the excessively high prices in Israel of food products, housing, fuel, transportation, and many other basic needs. Web sites, newspaper articles, and talking heads on TV put Israeli prices under a microscope, comparing the cost of products like cottage cheese and chocolate pudding with their prices in Europe and the US. For most of the products, the Israeli prices for those products were close to the top of the price list.
The protests, naturally, got the attention of Israeli politicians, with many taking to the podium to condemn the large supermarket chains who were “piggishly” taking advantage of the Israeli consumer. In response, the chains reduced prices on many products, running specials on dairy products, toothpaste, chicken, and many other products.
But what goes down can go up – and that is especially true of prices. While some politicians called for regulating prices of basic products – a system that had been in effect in Israel for decades, but was done away with in the 1980s – cooler heads prevailed, and the Knesset instead came up with the idea for a national database for prices of products sold in the large supermarkets and grocery chains.
Under the law, supermarkets and small grocery stores, as well as outlets that sell cosmetics and gasoline, automatically download data on prices directly from the cash register, as items are scanned. The information is entered into the database, automatically updating the “market basket” of those using the database to check for the cheapest prices, and displaying the address of the stores with the best buys.
The law went into effect earlier this year – and that’s when Pricez came out with its second version, which sucks information out of the database and presents it to users on an app and a web site. “The first version was a crowdsourced system, where consumers would upload information on prices, but this is much more effective, because it gives a complete picture of all prices as consumers go out on their shopping trips,” said Chai.
Updated hourly, the database supplies Pricez with information about specific products, and the app, using location data, tells consumers where the cheapest prices are in their area. Users can set up a shopping list, and the app will scan all the prices and come up with a recommendation on which store they will pay the least overall (even if a particular product is more expensive at that store than in another one); users can also choose a specific product and get information about where it costs the least.
The app also helps users find the cheaper alternatives to products, said Chai. “If a consumer is looking to buy pasta, for example, they can scan the barcode of any pasta on the shelf in that store, and the app will tell them if there is a cheaper alternative to that brand in the same store.”
The app was the brainchild of Boaz Yahav, a tech entrepreneur who owns several programming firms. In his spare time, Yahav works for consumer rights, “attending many of the meetings in the Knesset on high prices and lowering the cost of living,” said Chai. “He decided to produce the web site and the app as his way of helping families save money, and to send a message to retailers and wholesalers that Israelis have had enough of high prices.”
Right now, there’s no income model for the app, said Chai. “Boaz is doing this because he believes in it, but I do see some possibilities for monetization down the road, both in Israel and abroad. Along with the app we developed a platform to analyze and present the data, and that is likely to interest many customers of various types.”
Meanwhile, Chai and the Pricez team are working on building the app’s user base in Israel. “We have hundreds of thousands of users on the app and the site, and we’re growing substantially every month. We are also getting pretty good cooperation from the stores themselves, even when we point out errors between what the app shows versus the posted price in a store.” added Chai. Stores that fail to comply with the law could be fined (although none have yet been imposed, said Chai), and some store managers have expressed appreciation for the “heads up” in pointing out discrepancies before state inspectors get wind of them.
Right now, the app is only in Hebrew, although other languages, including English, are planned. “Our biggest priority is getting as many people as we can to download the free app and use it,” said Chai. “The more food companies realize that the people are keeping track of them, the more likely they are to pay attention to the needs of their customers – in this case, prices they can live with.”