Friends, Mario Zechner didn’t waste any time in refuting the government. In a radio interview, Martin Kocher, Austria’s labor minister, stated that the government would establish a new database to assist citizens in combating rising prices for necessities like milk, eggs, and other goods. This was back in May. Zechner took action on his own despite the anticipated months-long process and constrained scope of the proposed remedy.
Friends, Zechner had developed the first prototype of a comparison system just two hours after listening to the interview. He had taken pricing for 22,000 goods from the websites of Austria’s two biggest supermarket chains. Friends, I chose in the late afternoon and wanted to test how challenging it could be, he stated. He opened-sourced “Heisse Preise” (roughly translated as “Hot Prices”) on GitHub as a result. It increased from there, he claimed.
Friends, Heisse Preise, has expanded dramatically over the past few months, highlighting the effectiveness of citizen-driven efforts in exhibiting and maybe generating insights when data is made publicly accessible. The price comparison website includes information from four nearby nations, Germany and Slovenia, and pricing from ten Austrian supermarket brands. There are more than 177,000 things in Heisse Preise. Friends, The history of item pricing goes back to 2017, thanks to anonymous donors and local media. Zechner’s technology was developed when disputes over pricing and living expenses plagued the European food business.
Zechner’s tool has illuminated supermarkets’ opaque world of price adjustments, where minute price disparities exist, and competitors can adapt to changes within a few days of an alteration. This is arguably the instrument’s most significant contribution.
The Austrian Federal Competition Authority has been looking into the food market since October 2022 and has noticed Heisse Preise and other growing DIY comparison websites. Friends, The authority has already advised the government on possible amendments to the law that would make stores need to post their price information. Additionally, the source said it could “take a closer look” at which supermarkets browse their rivals’ websites and use such data to determine their own prices.
Leonhard Dobusch, the academic director of the Austrian think tank Momentum Institute, stated, “This information is precious for anyone interested in the politics of serious competition.” Friends, He claimed that it “really empowers the skills of price setting and price coordination.”
Austria has seen a sharp rise in food prices across Europe due to high inflation, rising energy costs, and the confluence of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. This is also true of Austria. Friends, The food market in the nation is dominated by Spar, Billa, and Hofer, three significant grocery chains. Their cost has been rising rapidly over the last few years. Austrian egg prices have increased by 21% since February 2021, milk prices have increased by 26%, and onion prices have soared by more than 47%.
Politicians and economists across Europe are attempting to find solutions as prices increase. They give directives to control how merchants set prices, confirm producers’ profits, call attention to “price gouging,” and request more competition-related data. As a response, Austrian legislators have suggested a price transparency database.
Friends, Austria has seen the emergence of several price comparison websites recently, including Preismonitor, Supermarkt, Teuerungsportal, and Preisrunter. However, a Momentum Institute analyst, Dubuque, pointed out that Heise Preisse has more sophisticated analysis skills. Dubuque says Heise Preisse employs a straightforward REST API for online store searches. It comprises a product’s brand, dimensions, and price. “Their online store search functionality uses a fundamental REST API,” he claimed.
According to Zechner, each supermarket brand gives each product a distinct ID and does not include a universal EAN identifier in its APIs. Friends, This can make comparing the same product across multiple stores complex. Zechner pointed out that they can still be matched based on the product’s name, container size, and cost. The last three months have stayed the same, Heise Preisse.
You can search for products, examine their pricing, and add the same item from other stores to a chart for comparison in one area of Heise Preisse. Friends, Price fluctuations throughout time can be tracked using historical data. For instance, the cost of a 330ml can of Coca-Cola Zero from some outlets has gradually grown. Zechner noted that he soon concluded that shops that constantly charge the same amount for an item to save customers money on their weekly purchases might be less successful. Friends, Compared to Austria, some goods were much cheaper in Germany. Dubuque stated that he forwarded the information to the competition authorities.
According to Catalina Goanta, an associate professor of private law and technology at Utrecht University, supermarkets are becoming technology enterprises as grocery shopping becomes more digitalized. Supermarkets gather consumer behavioral data to personalize offers, use dynamic pricing, sell data to ad networks, and automate some services. Friends, Customers may find it challenging to comprehend what they are purchasing. Goanta emphasized how the Romanian NGO’s website Insider used data to confirm how it had disrupted towns and claimed that Romanian volunteers started a price monitor for food goods in 2020.
I don’t believe that the procedure of “Let’s go to this website and let’s check the item before we buy it from the supermarket” is best for Romanian consumers, Goanta remarked. “There’s little doubt that this website may give grocers crucial information. We are keeping an eye on you, and not only do our inspectors go grocery shopping, but we also have access to your APIs.
Friends, Wired has asked the owners of Billa and Hofer supermarkets for a statement. Niko Barkman, a Spar representative, said that the retailer provided “detailed information” regarding its prices to the Austrian competition watchdog. Nevertheless, Barkman acknowledged that “price comparison is a tricky thing” and asserted that “almost every single price comparison” contains inaccuracies because there are “thousands and thousands of products with different sizes, packages, fillings, quality, mixes, etc.”
This kind of price comparison is not valid, Barkman added. “Because Austria is the smallest country in Europe and has the highest density of supermarkets. Friends, I would have to walk the streets as a customer to find the cheapest groceries. Does the government think consumers spend hours looking for more affordable products?
Product comparison and price transparency are not new concepts. Friends, There have been price comparison websites for practically every consumer good for years, according to Markus Nigl, CEO of the business comparison site Geizhals, which has a network of sites in Austria, Germany, the UK, and Poland.
Food retailers are not eager to compare their prices, the author continues. It could be more specific. Friends is a price transparency and comparison tool that is good for consumers. Food tracking done by volunteers is quite effective.
Hannes Stampler, a communication manager of the Austrian Digital Rights Group Epicenter, highlights the urgent necessity for governments to modernize. He points out that while authorities take months to examine, citizens can swiftly create such national services. Friends, he adds that major food sellers ought to publish their price information as open data. “Among others, price comparison websites should have free access to this information.”
The competition watchdog in Austria is keeping an eye on things. According to its case manager, Amanubh Thadros, the Federal Competition Authority has questioned 2,200 businesses and suppliers as part of its thorough inquiry. Friends, Although the final version of the study is due at the end of the month, it has already made clear the need for more price transparency and recommended that retailers provide statistics.
Friends, According to Snyder of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour and Economic Affairs, the government had explored several solutions for price transparency before deciding not to develop a “national comparison product.” “A common legal framework would help manage individual products,” adds Snyder. But to qualify the requisite product as a “national product,” a new “framework” will be required. Friends, Since not all supermarkets offer the technical interface (API) to calculate the price data, Snyder continues, “The supermarket should provide data on the selection of a sales price for the principal food product and provide more detailed information. Since there is more competition among food vendors, hygiene is a crucial tool.
Zechner is building the website’s code but claims he has no precise goals. He has spoken to other comparison site designers as well as politicians. He intends to help others who want to utilize his open-source technology to create their own national comparison systems.
Friends, The information has recently become more and more critical to the general public, and the Austrian National Library has informed Jekanar that it intends to establish a Heise Press and its data storage strategy. According to Jekanar, it enables entrepreneurs to use data for commercial purposes. Friends, Scientific institutions can now research macro- and micro-economic issues, which was previously impossible due to the lack of readily accessible data. Additionally, because there is more transparency in pricing adjustment strategies, competition among physical-and-mortar retailers will be boosted.