An app that receives more than 250,000 downloads in over two weeks is most certainly worth noting. And when it hits 43,000 daily downloads and is more popular than Twitter, Candy Crush and Instagram, it is impossible to ignore.
So what is it? Precios OK, an Android application that addresses the very unique and specific socio-economic moment in Argentina. In the midst of one of its seemingly cyclical crises and with inflation rates skyrocketing, the country’s public and private sectors are hurting – as are its citizens’ wallets.
Precios OK, released at the end of January, allows consumers to scan product barcodes in supermarkets and confirm whether they adhere to the price controls laid out by the government (an initiative called Precios Cuidados). A competing application, Precios Cuidados, has also emerged, though it hasn’t taken off in the same way.
To provide some context, inflation in Argentina has become an increasingly urgent problem in Argentina in recent years – something the government ignored until recently, the Minister of Economy admitting on February 13th a January inflation rate of 3.7%.
The Precios Cuidados price control initiative, launched last January, was meant to combat inflation, bringing together supermarkets, suppliers and distributors to keep prices down. It establishes the cost of a specific set of common items and renders the consumer a sort of supervisor, encouraging citizens to report products that priced above what the index allows.
The initiative, however, leaves many questions unanswered. What products are included? Where? How can anyone keep things from spiraling out of control? The app in question, Precios OK, allows users to confirm whether a product falls under the Precios Cuidados program, see what supermarkets have adhered to the program, search for products and, most importantly, report non-compliance.
A Non-Government Solution
Given high smartphone penetration rates in Argentina (especially Samsung), one might think the app solution is somewhat obvious. But it’s worth noting that the idea came from a couple of students – not the government.
Behind the initiative are Yamila Fraiman and Alejandro Torrado, two systems engineering students at the University of Buenos Aires. Fraiman has been making noise for a while now, winning the BA Apps competition last year with EstacionApp, an app that helps drivers decipher where parking is and is not permitted.
Beyond the Precios OK phenomenon on Google Play, both Fraiman and Torrado realized the reach of their product when the Secretary of Commerce reached out to them to find out how non-compliance reports on supermarkets were evolving. It turns out that many more complaints were received through the application than through the toll-free number provided by the government.
It’s worth noting that the students developed Precios OK entirely on their own, receiving no support from the Argentine government. They simply set out to bring clarity to a confusing official initiative. Today, the relationship between the developers and the government is a fluid one, and the app team reports complaints on a daily basis. Non-compliance reports have tripled since January, namely of supermarkets with price-controlled items out of stock.
As for Fraiman and Torrado, they continue to update their application, the tedious work of scanning barcodes and manually entering products largely over. They’re also leaning on user feedback to make improvements and have been pleasantly surprised by the international visibility their work has gained. What’s next? Taking advantage of the spotlight to bring to life other ideas and initiatives.