It's time to buy milk, eggs and bread again. It's a few days until payday, and you'd like to save a buck or two. Which store in town has the lowest prices?
SavingEveryWeek.com, a new Web site launched last week, promises to help you figure that out.
Founded by Urbana resident Jeff Roloff, the Web site takes users through three main steps: entering prices from past purchases, creating a shopping list and generating a comparison sheet for you.
"I've always been cheap," Roloff said. He is someone who reads the advertising inserts in the Sunday newspapers, but he doesn't have a complex coupon filing system. "I do like to shop where I can save some money," he said.
About a year and a half ago, he started thinking about how could he make this process of comparison shopping easier?
About that same time, Google came out with its App Engine. The "cloud computing" concept allows developers like Roloff to run their programs from Google's data centers instead of their own servers.
The idea intrigued Roloff, who until a few months ago was the technology director for Human Kinetics in Champaign.
Roloff, a self-described tech geek, also founded a local computer hardware company called Central Data Corp. He sold that company in 1997.
On nights and weekends he played around with the App Engine technology and over time his idea for the Web site evolved.
"It revolves around the idea that you come to the site weekly," he said. Shoppers enter prices on products that they buy frequently, such as laundry detergent or diapers.
For the first step, users, with their recent receipts nearby, enter the prices for items they bought at local stores. Next, they create a shopping list of what they plan to buy, and the site then generates a list of the items, showing up to four stores at a time. The lowest price is circled on the screen. The application also will keep track of whether the product was a brand name or a store brand. And it allows you to track the prices of items going back six months.
The whole process should take about five or 10 minutes, perhaps a little bit more when you visit for the first time, Roloff said.
Roloff said since grocery stores were hesitant to offer up their price information and he had to get the prices from somewhere, the site's price information comes from the very people who are using the site.
"It's crowdsourcing. The people going to the stores will be the sources (for prices)," he said.
The more people enter prices, the more information the system will be able to provide.
Roloff also plans to contract out the work of entering price information from weekly store fliers into the system.
SavingEveryWeek.com is being rolled out in the Champaign-Urbana area, but eventually it's Roloff's goal to enter many more markets.
The first phase, the pilot phase, may last about six to eight weeks. During that time he'll be testing the site's functionality and usability, refining his business plan, considering different marketing strategies and reviewing feedback to find ways to improve the site.
After that comes the effort to raise money and work on "the real growth stage of the business," he said: entry into 20 or 30 different geographic markets.
Three months ago, he decided to leave Human Kinetics and jump into the project full time.
"One of the reasons I decided to leave my job and take this risk is that in this economy there are more people using their money wisely," he said.
He predicts users will be people who already clip coupons, but "want to save a little bit more" and people "who are looking to save some time" organizing their shopping.