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Show HN: InStock – like Waze, but for grocery availability (whatsinstock.app)
165 points by kmdupree 88 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Of course it requires a critical mass of people reporting before it becomes widely useful, and thinking cynically, I could see people "InStock-bombing" their local store - saying it's out of everything - in hopes of driving people away and keeping it for themselves.

But if you've solved both of those problems and/or found them not to be problems, I think this could be really helpful

Edit: Also, I just tried to search for it on the App Store by "InStock" (what it's called on the website), and it didn't come up. Then I searched for "whats in stock" and I think the one that came up (named "WhatsInStock") is this one, based on the screenshots. I think greater consistency would probably result in greater discoverability and trust.

Edit 2: I just opened it up and the nearby stores it found didn't include HEB, which is the most common grocer in my region (Texas), nor Whole Foods nor H-Mart. And while there isn't one close by, if it doesn't have HEB it probably doesn't have Central Market either. Just fyi.

I think it's safe to assume that the majority of users are good actors. With that in mind, the two main attacks that these sorts of crowdsourcing apps need to figure counterattacks for are:

1. Minimizing the damage an individual can do. This is usually pretty easy to solve. InStock has the issue that a unique item could be said to be out of stock, and not have any other users report otherwise for a while.

2. Minimizing the damage that a coordinated group effort can do. This can be difficult to solve. The attackers will likely succeed for a while; you'd need a system in place to detect anomalies (or at worst, rely on users to report the issue) and a weighted scoring system (20 brand new users shouldn't sway what an active 6 month account says, etc).

I've yet to see TP come back in stock at my local grocer during my trips, so I hope this project succeeds.

I hear you on the cynacism. We'll just have to see what happens.

Regarding the app store name, thanks for that feedback. We couldn't use InStock unfortunately since it was already taken, but we'll definitely think about this.

Regarding the store search results, we are using an api for this and this is quickly floating to the top of our backlog as something to work on for the next release. Thanks for the feedback on this as well, as it helps us prioritize the things that really matter to people. :)

> We couldn't use InStock unfortunately since it was already taken

Understandable; one solution would be to adopt the App Store name as the new "real name" and put it on your website, etc.

> Thanks for the feedback on this as well, as it helps us prioritize the things that really matter to people. :)

Sure thing! Best of luck.

This is kind of similar to Milo.com which was acquired by eBay in 2010. It was a real-time inventory monitoring/tracking service for local shopping - Shops had to install a plugin for their QuickBooks application, which would automatically update store inventory to Milo. It had a search engine front end which allowed users to find items nearby -- https://techcrunch.com/2010/12/02/confirmed-ebay-acquires-mi... and https://techcrunch.com/2011/06/15/milo-fetch-allows-local-re...

OP should def contact the founder of Milo (whose now a VC) for ideas on scaling, monetization, features etc

Would you be able to offer a web version? There are a lot of us who don't have iphones, and that might provide a simpler cross-platform alternative.

There's a very similarly named InStok [1] that offers a website.

1. https://www.instok.org

Thanks for the feedback!

I hear you on this. I actually am an Android guy myself. Android is on it's way, and we've talked about adding a web version too. it's a bit tricky since we have some feature ideas we have could be tough to implement via a web app.

Just out of curiosity, what does web lack that you need for your app ?

Great, I appreciate the response and am glad to know that. I'm curious, what's the long-term plan for monetization?

We don't really have one. We may never have one. We just knew there was a real problem here.

If the app merely helps people get what they need and get home sooner (away from the virus) and doesn't cost us a fortune to maintain, then that's ok with us. If there's a business to build around the app, that'd be great too.

This needs crowdsourced data with extremely short shelf life (if you pardon the pun).

I don’t understand how this will ever work unless you find a more automatic way to get the data. Some ideas:

- Cooperate with the grocery store, and integrate with their existing inventory systems.

- Build the app around a smart shopping list. Automatically suggest the nearest store that is most likely to have everything on my list in stock. For any items I’ve added but didn’t check off after I left the store, report it automatically as not available, to build up the database.

- Something something AR?

2 and 3 are unlikely, most in store inventory and ordering systems are quite antiquated, not easily integrating with modern web technology, they also do not monitor things like shrink and shelf misplacement. Working with a large grocer, the best method for in stock is sales analysis.

I've done multiple POS data integration products with retail sales and inventory data and have thought about the backend of this sort of app before. #2 is doable, the main problem is that every retailer has different systems. But it can be done with enough capital.

How the heck are you able to get this data? I called the local store (Fred Myer) and they say they don't know they wait until the truck arrives and then they see what they get.

Here's an idea for OP:

- track what users are searching for in an area (e.g. toilet paper)

- use GPS to determine who is at a store nearby that hasn't had that item updated recently

- prompt the user via notification with something like "Does [grocery store you're in] have toilet paper in stock?"

Admittedly it's not motivating anyone to answer, but it might help to keep data fresh.

Just scan receipts that will tell you what’s in stock as the user bought it


Appreciate the feedback! Posted it in our slack channel now. :)

Crowd sourced reporting

I am curious how you will deal with this problem: lets say I am at the store using InStock, and then someone takes the last package of chicken. So, I report there is no chicken. Another user approaches and also reports there is no chicken, so there must be no chicken! After we both leave, the stock boy comes and replenishes the chicken.

What will motivate reports?

Probably nothing really. It will work a while for frequently out of stock items when the app has a small number of users. This replaces text messaging to let others know what's in stock.

But with many users, notifying other people will just make the store run out of stock sooner. So people will revert to texting their friends to let them know when something's in stock.

I'm curious what would be motivating here, too. Of all times to dilly dally in a grocery store, now's not the time. I want to get in and get out to reduce exposure time--not spend time updating an app with what I see on a shelf.

Wow thanks for your reply.

Awesome. About 8 years ago I was on vacation in Concan, Tx on the Frio river. There are maybe 3 stores in the area and then 3 roads out of town that each have a couple stores 10-15 miles away. I needed diapers. I didnt care what brand, I just needed some diapers. I imagined a similar idea wherein a person could search for "diapers" "beer" "charcoal" or whatever and find the closest item.

Glad to see it has come to exist.

Thanks for the feedback! We think it's a neat idea too. My partner and I both had similar stories. In fact, when he started to describe his story, I knew how it ended and I just said, "I'm in. Let's build it."

A better method would be to have reservation only items, or even just a sign up sheet and distribution. As the concept of people following hot tips and traveling to en mass to various locations around the city will almost certainly exacerbate the spread. If the majority of people are good enough to use the system for it's intended purpose, then they can maybe also just not hoard items others may need.

Awesome intentions behind the idea, but I've got to be realistic: how on earth are you going to motivate enough people to report on availability?

I'm a huge fan of crowdsourcing, but I'm having a hard time seeing how the math works out even remotely here. It's very, very different from Waze in this aspect.

Devil advocate: why do people report things on Waze? What motivates someone to report road conditions when it doesn't really benefit them?

The math works out very, very differently for traffic conditions than it does for store availability. With traffic conditions, with a full road of traffic, if even only a couple percent of people have Waze, and then even only a couple percent of those report an accident, for example, you can still be fairly confident the accident occurred.

With stores that have thousands of products, and the app is only useful based on it's accuracy for each individual product, you need many, many more people reporting because their reports are spread over so many products.

TBH, I don't think this idea is workable, mainly because for the most in-demand items where you want a service like this, the inventory changes by the minute. I mean, whole aisles of toilet paper can easily be cleared out in 10 minutes even when purchases are limited to one package per customer. It takes me 10 mins to drive to the nearest grocery store.

Could pay store employees to scan barcodes as they're stocking shelves?

Or they could just do online ordering and curbside pickup. Then availability is online and updated by the in store system. And social distance is ensured

My local grocery stores have pretty much killed that. You might be able to get a pickup window some time 8-10 days from now, but they will straight up cancel all of the high demand items like toilet paper.

If only this were usable. I’ve been trying for weeks now and either havent been able to get a time slot or anything actually in stock despite the website saying.

In my country there are no available slots at any grocery chains for delivery or collection for the next three weeks.

Would be great if you could lease out this platform for other in demand assets or services that need crowd sourcing info.

Interesting idea! Do you have any specific examples in mind?

We had a similar idea, but didn't follow through. Here are some non-obvious use cases that you may find interesting

- Price comparison for the same item at different local stores - Localized demand estimation for brands - Referrals for items not available in the traditional distribution model (eg. Organic/Handmade goods)

One thing that would be helpful to me is to get a list of the re-stocking times for my local stores. I know that my local City Target gets restocked at 11am every day. And that a Walgreens down the street gets restocked on Tue and Fri nights so Wed/Sat mornings are when to get in line early to get some of the tough-to-find goods. This could be crowd-sourced like the rest of the app or an appointed business owner could be verified or introduce a superuser/moderator role for people to get karma based off of verified submissions.

It would be amazing to be able to see what Grocery delivery service has the earliest delivery times open in your area, if it is even possible

I tried it briefly. Please tune the location algorithm to let me pick a nearby store. I live in the city and it detected a bunch of one-off corner stores but did not search broadly enough to find any actual grocery stores even major ones just a few miles away.

We've updated the app so that it searches more broadly (10 store instead of 5), let me know if that helps! :)

My local news has done something similar with storm pins. Storm pins is an app people used to post pictures and videos of interesting weather events, and, gas and water during a hurricane.

They've enabled things like toilet paper and sanitizer in the app. It's been pretty good.

Interesting how this kind of app will be most useful if everyone uses the same app. In which case there is perfect market transparency (well, regarding availability only in this case) and perfect centralization. Of course, this is still individuals contributing, and so it's not exactly central planning, but it does go to show that centralized organization of available goods is quite helpful in a crisis situation, simply because it is more efficient. Especially in this crisis, where inefficiency (wandering around town trying to find stuff) is in direct conflict with the best remedy (social distancing).

Someone should make a website that does this. No reason for this to be a native app.

Turns out this exists: https://www.instok.org/

And we're happy that it exists. :) Hopefully, more people working on this will mean people spent less time exposed at grocery stores.

FWIW, we may pursue a web version of the app, but we do have some feature ideas that could be difficult to implement as a web app, so we'll have to see. :)

I love shipping things that people think are difficult to implement as a web app. Get at me.

is that fair or stealing the idea? if everyone here agrees this is fair i'll do it but i'll need a domain name. how about whogotwh.at?

You should, and also improve on the strategy (see my pseudocode)

    if (item == "tp") {
    } else if (item == "hand sanitizer") {
    } else if (item == "chicken") {
    } else {

There's many reasons for this to be a native app - I probably wouldn't use it unless it was one.

Why not?

shameless plug...we made something very similar... covidneeds.com ... just a bunch of volunteers ..we've put this up over a weekend trying to help... very basic.. sorry, if I shouldn't be posting about it here...

Maybe it could also let you specify "old person hours" at your nearby stores? And does it let you specify a thing you're looking for? (like 151 proof alcohol)

I think the best way to get this off the ground is to pick 1 community and really push it there, to try out how useful it can be. Then use that one as an example.

cool..yep... thats what we're trying to do... hence you see a lot of updates from NY / NJ area where its most needed; and where we're based of.

Nice additional feature could be to display times, when there's probability to meet least number of shoppers.

Google has estimates of this which you can see in Google Maps.

This busy-ness info doesn't show up when I use google maps on my phone, though. Even when it is in desktop display.

genius. telling my partner right now.

How are you getting your data? Are you scraping grocery websites or relying on users to report it?

You missed the answer to my question -crowd sourced reporting.

Maybe you should look into reaching out to grocery store people and adding it. Plus in the app there's no way to report duplicates or add stores (Costco for example doesn't show up).

These are great suggestions.

You're right that the functionality is limited right now. Allowing people to see more stores is one of the first things we want to work on next. :)

Next; let users request updates about particular stores. Hire task rabbits or provide your users with some gameified reason to go check the store.

Thanks for the feedback!

Requesting updates about particular stores is my favorite idea here. We had a similar one: requesting updates about a particular item. :)

Are you an Orlandoan, by chance? I'm seeing some familiar addresses in the features screenshots. Need any help?

I am in Orlando! I appreciate the offer to help. I'll definitely keep that in mind. Can you send me an email (email on my hn user is good)

it would have been somewhat would be useful if you could tie into inventory systems like brickseek, or directly from online grocers/amazon-wholefoods/instacart.

but... during this time, even those systems are unreliable so i cant imagine this being of much use as of now.

good point. we agree that this would be useful, even if the information isn't perfect.

you're exactly right to point out that the information isn't perfect, by the way. I was just at a store earlier doing some personal shopping and I noticed they had employees counting the items because their inventory system wasn't reliable.

If this were to take off and maintain popularity past the COVID crisis, you could start showing trends to identify when stores receive shipments, restock their shelves, etc.

During the crisis, I don't see many people clicking "I Can Help", but it would be interesting if you could find a way to solve that. Gamification as others have said, might help, but not sure.

It would be interesting InstaCart shoppers, etc, could adopt this as a way to drive more business for themselves. If they're already out shopping and can identify high-demand items are in stock, a would-be buyer could procure it pretty quickly by starting an order with that Insta-shopper. I haven't thought through that, but it's an idea.

I could also see uploading, emailing InstaCart receipts. You could grep in-stock/out-ouf-stock information from those and timestamp it based on when the shopping was done.

> they had employees counting the items because their inventory system wasn't reliable.

That's just the normal way to do inventory, and has no real relationship to the reliability of the inventory system. There's no other way to account for inventory shrinkage (eg. theft, damage).

just downloaded and unfortunately there’s a bug that list the same 10 stores like 10 times. so i was scrolling forever just to get to the bottom where it told me “Unfortunately, no one knows what’s in stock there.”

I love the concept though.

Can't find it on the Canadian app store :(

It looks like a glide app , is that correct ?

there's another app of the same name on the google play store that is wack as frell might want to look into that


This comment breaks the Show HN guidelines. Would you please review them? https://news.ycombinator.com/showhn.html

Please notice this, also, from the overall site guidelines:

"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."


Apologies for the tone, I understand that it didn't fit with the guidelines. But, to me, the idea behind the app seems blatantly morally wrong.

We should not be encouraging people to either converge on the one grocery store that has the thing that everyone wants. We should not be encouraging people to go to multiple stores to get everything on our shopping list.

This is a disaster, we've got to make some concessions.

At the same time, we should also avoid people going from store to store until they find a store that has what they are looking for. Which this helps with.

My point is that if they don't find what they're looking for, I think the right solution is to get a substitute or go without.

And you think this app not existing is going to motivate people to do that?

The premise of the app is helping people to not buy substitutes or go without.

And my point is that many people want to avoid to "buy substitutes or go without", regardless of us thinking it would be a good idea, and some will avoid it by visiting more stores if they can't find out beforehand where to go, so helping people avoiding it is not necessarily a bad thing.

Thanks but no thanks.


I recognize an app is more convenient but I do find that sometimes people forget that they can call the store to check if they really need something.

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