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While shopping, strength in numbers

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A Waterloo Region startup aims to provide a new type of shopping experience, particularly those in rural communities. 

Shop Together is a social-buying app that features discounts when purchasing with a group. The products, which range from household products, cosmetics and food items, are then delivered to the customers’ door. 

The e-commerce app was co-founded by three University of Waterloo graduates – Jacqueline Chan, Jayanth Kottapalli and Sumit Pasupalak – while they were still in school together. Other team members joined in, including Neha Choudhary marketing and community, iOS lead developer Bastien Ravalet, and lead android developer Florian Do.

Chan said that she had been inspired to create the app in early 2019 through an Elmira Buy & Sell Facebook group.

“There’s a lot of Facebook Buy & Sell groups and I actually bought something from the Elmira Facebook group and I was seeing that a lot of other people wanted the product,” explained Chan. “Obviously I didn’t sell that product but I thought ‘What could I sell there that people would be interested in?’”

After seeing the traction posts can pick up on these online groups, the idea of selling a discounted item over the Buy & Sell stayed with her for a while. To try it out, she purchased almonds on sale at Walmart.

“So I thought, ‘why not just save the trip for everyone? Let’s just buy these and see who else would be interested.’ I got 40-50 replies in just a few hours, just from these almonds,” said Chan.

The soft launch took place October 1, and has seen more than 5,000 downloads since its inception. Their key demographics include millennial moms, wellness enthusiasts, and professional women on the go.

Because of its potential to save rural residents a trip to the city grocery stores, it has seen popularity in smaller areas, said Choudhary.

“It’s grown in areas like Bloomingdale, Elmira, and even outside of Woolwich Township. We saw it popular in Elora, New Hamburg, all the way to Bluewater in Bayfield,” said Choudhary. “We were seeing that populate, and then somehow with that, transactions it was taking it back to Kitchener-Waterloo… or vice-versa, passing it back into those areas.”

The app itself features elements of well-known social media apps, such as the Facebook timeline and Instagram profile. That was intentional, said Kottapalli, to give users a sense of familiarity, as well as encourage a social atmosphere while browsing.

“When we actually thought about it, it’s already built into people’s mindsets. There’s a social aspect to shopping; if you see a great deal, you’ll likely tell your family and friends,” said Kottapalli.

A user has the option when viewing a product to buy alone, or create a group order, usually with a significantly discounted price. If a user does not know anyone who uses the app, they can pair up with someone in the area who wants the same item for a discount.

Each user has a profile that can be connected to their Facebook or simply to their phone. Their profile, which can be viewed by any other user, lists the amount of money saved, each product purchased, and their “followers” and “following.”

The Shop Together staff purchase their products directly from Canadian suppliers, such as the Toronto based wholesale bakery, New Moon Kitchen. This is why they are able to offer products at a lower price.

While the majority of products featured are unique and unconventional, the most purchased items so far are everyday essentials, such as toilet paper.

“Other corporations such as Goodness Me! charge money for putting the product on the shelf itself, and that’s what makes the prices get crazy high,” said Kottapalli. “For us, the shelf is on the app. You’re not paying the premium – if you know that you wanted to get this product, then you have a cheaper option to get this product on the platform.”

Staff opt to use local couriers to deliver products to the door, preferring to go that route over the likes of Canada Post.

The Shop Together app can be downloaded for free on the app store or Google Play.

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