Blue Tiger Labs creates app to compare grocery prices

Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post - Blue Tiger Labs founder and chief executive Neil Kataria, right, with some of his employees at the company’s office in the District. Kataria’s newest start-up has unveiled an app that compares grocery prices.

Serial entrepreneur Neil Kataria is out with his latest creation, a smartphone app that allows shoppers to compare prices at nearby grocery stores before ever setting foot out the door.

PriceSpotting is the first smartphone application created by Kataria’s District-based Blue Tiger Labs. The app uses a smartphone’s global positioning technology to find nearby supermarkets and grocery stores, and then helps shoppers compare the price of items to find the most savings.

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Blue Tiger Labs hopes to capi­tal­ize on the growing role that smartphones play in consumers’ buying habits, whether they use the hand-held devices to research products, locate shops or actually make a purchase.

But Kataria said comparison shopping among local brick-and-mortar stores is a time-consuming, shoe-leather effort because no one has connected them effectively with mobile devices.

“No one in their right mind has the time to do this,” Kataria said. “There is a tremendous amount of cost savings and a tremendous amount of time savings” as a result of the app.

Kataria was most recently a co-founder of District-based NewBrandAnalytics, a firm that helps companies aggregate and analyze customer feedback on social media, and serves as founding partner of Blue Tiger Ventures, an early-stage investment firm.

The inaugural version of PriceSpotting relies primarily on individual shoppers to scan items they intend to purchase and update the cost in the app’s database. As incentive, users will earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards.

Kataria said the app will also pull prices from grocery store Web sites and weekly advertisements to supplement.

“As we layer in more users, the real-time effect starts to happen pretty quickly,” Kataria said. “You’d be surprised at how up to date the database becomes.”

Building a database of grocery stores’ inventory comes with challenges, perhaps the most obvious being the shear volume of items. Kataria said the PriceSpotting database already contains nearly 100,000 products.

But PriceSpotting also has to accommodate for the fact that stores may categorize items differently or carry varying quantities. For example, you may be able to buy a 12 pack of bottled water at CVS, but only a 32-bottle pack at Costco. Thus, a side-by-side comparison could seem misleading.

Blue Tiger Labs already has two upgraded versions of the app planned for this summer that will allow users to share cheap finds with their social networks and allow grocery chains to offer deals directly to users.

The firm also plans to expand PriceSpotting beyond grocery stores and into other retail segments, such as clothing or home goods, Kataria said.

Though Washington is not known for a concentration of consumer technology companies, Kataria said firms such as LivingSocial have demonstrated how mobile and online deals can influence local commerce.

But the daily deal purveyor’s challenges may also serve as a lesson for upstarts. Getting people to use an app or online service once can be expensive and time-consuming, and getting them to come back regularly is an additional hurdle. But both would be necessary for an app like PriceSpotting to succeed.

“This whole world of a community-driven commerce platform is still foreign to a lot of people out there,” Kataria said.

He said the application is also targeted toward small-business owners who place regular food orders for the office, such as drinks to stock the refrigerator or food and plastic cutlery for an office party. Business owners can also compare prices to find the most savings.

Blue Tiger Labs counts 15 employees to date and the company will likely look to raise its first round of venture capital this summer, Kataria said.

 
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