SINGAPORE: A new crowdsourcing mobile application will allow shoppers to get more bang for their buck by comparing retail prices and promotions of groceries, household items and hawker food being sold at some outlets.
Price Kaki, launched by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) on Tuesday (Sep 10), will also allow users to track price changes and earn e-vouchers by contributing information on prices and promotions.
It can be downloaded on Apple’s App Store and Google Play during a pilot run from Sep 28, before being launched islandwide in early 2020.
“Price Kaki will serve as a tool for consumers to compare prices easily so that they can make more informed decisions and stretch their dollar,” CASE said in a statement after the launch event.
CASE consumer empowerment taskforce chairperson Melvin Yong said work on the app began about eight months ago when it discovered a gap in information on in-store retail prices.
"We found that online there are apps which pull together prices available on online e-commerce sites," he said. "How do we pull information on in-store prices of a basket of common goods that consumers regularly purchase?"
For a start, the app will list about 3,000 frequently purchased household and grocery items like milk, rice and eggs at 31 supermarkets in the pilot towns of Jurong West, Tampines and Toa Payoh.
Towns from different parts of Singapore were selected to ensure good geographical and demographic representation for the trial.
Participating supermarkets are NTUC FairPrice, Giant, Sheng Siong and Prime Supermarket. CASE will work with them to ensure the information is up to date as prices are updated daily.
The app will also list food prices at 11 hawker centres in the same towns, including the ones at Our Tampines Hub, Toa Payoh West Market and Boon Lay Place Market.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng called the app a “progressive move".
“It is a bit like a network of ‘kakis’ to share tips on shopping – exchanging knowledge on the best deals,” he said in a speech at the launch event on Tuesday.
“And this especially helps people who have less time; people who are less aware of market prices; people who are less experienced shoppers.”
Users can search for items by name or category, and apply search filters like location. For instance, you would be able to compare prices of black carrot cake from different eateries near Old Airport Road.
Users can also scan the barcode of an item in a supermarket to see how much it costs elsewhere.
The app will notify users of price changes for items that have been added to an alert list, while users will get rank points for submitting new prices and promotions. The most active users stand to win groceries, food and beverage, movie and transport e-vouchers every two weeks.
“The mobile application is simple to navigate, encouraging use and contribution,” CASE said, adding that it had considered user feedback and conducted several user testing sessions.
During the pilot run from Sep 28, users can compare and contribute prices for items in the pilot towns. This also allows the app to be tested and improved based on user feedback and experience.
“To raise awareness among consumers, CASE will be organising a series of outreach activities and tapping on local community events at these towns to guide consumers on how to use the mobile application,” it said.
“Subsequently, consumers will be able to compare and contribute prices for items across Singapore during the nationwide launch.”
Right now, the app covers a limited number of item categories, but Mr Yong said these can be expanded based on user feedback.
He pointed out that the large amount of pricing data collected could be used to study trends and "give even more value" to the consumer for making informed purchasing decisions.
"In the long run beyond the three pilot towns, I’m sure we will have to review the resources that we have ... to run it efficiently and effectively," he added, noting that this can mean hiring more people.
When asked how much the app cost to develop, CASE declined comment, but said that it is among initiatives supported by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to benefit consumers.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR SUPERMARKETS?
Mr Yong said it was initially "a bit of a challenge" getting supermarkets to come on board, with some saying they were concerned about the possibility of a price war.
But Mr Yong noted that the app only shares publicly available information.
"Today, I’m sure the supermarkets themselves monitor the prices of each other," he added. "So, this doesn’t really make any difference to the supermarkets’ operations."
Mr Yong said CASE was "very persistent" in approaching the supermarkets and held many meetings together.
"Eventually, they came to see the benefits. They want to be part of it because they want consumers to know the promotions that they have," he added.
"Because if you are not on board and the rest are, you tend to lose out."
Sheng Siong Group chief executive officer (CEO) Lim Hock Chee said price is just one aspect when it comes to attracting consumers.
"Besides price, there is customer service and quality," he said. "You need to do them well. As long as you do all three well, I don't think there is much of a problem."
Prime Group International CEO Tan Yong Shao said location still plays a big part in purchasing habits, noting that a mere 20 cents price difference will not compel consumers to visit three different locations in one grocery run.
"We are primarily in the heartlands ... we are strong in where we are located," he said. "So even if there is a minor price fluctuation, that probably wouldn’t sway customers by too much."
CONCERNS OF PRICE FIXING
But will the app lead to price-fixing among supermarkets? The players didn't think so.
Mr Lim said business is already very competitive with fluctuating prices. "Everyone doesn't want to lose; they are scared customers will be stolen," he added.
Mr Tan said prices have always been transparent, noting that he sees the app as a price consolidator which acts as a one-stop centre for price checking. "It’s more about verification," he added. "You can’t shop on it."
Mr Yong said CASE will continue to monitor the prices. "Should there be information of such an activity, we will let the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore do its own investigation," he stated.
CASE said the app is part of its efforts to educate consumers on their rights to choose and make informed purchasing decisions.
Dr Tan said CASE’s efforts to help consumers do not end here, adding that the association will share more “in due course”.
“I am encouraging CASE to continue helping consumers stretch hard-earned dollars with other tools to help our people make more informed decisions,” he stated.