Monday, June 29, 2009

This is the website the government doesn't want you to use

Entitled "choicegrocery" and up until Friday due to go live Wednesday it held out the promise of allowing shoppers to compare supermarket prices before they left their homes.

The procedure shown on these screenshots is straightforward. First a costumer enters a postcode, then selects the most convenient nearby shops and then enters the quantities, weights and brands of the products they want.

The total prices displayed on the screen are meant to give each shopper a good idea of which supermarket are likely to be the cheapest for the exact basket of goods they wanted to buy...

...a big advance on the previous government-run Grocery Choice website that made comparisons on the basis of fixed baskets of goods, the contents of which were undisclosed.

The non-profit group Choice had more than 25 information technology staff working almost around the clock at its Marrickville headquarters in order to get the site ready by Wednesday until the government pulled the pin on its $13 million contract with Choice Friday.

Unable to get data directly from retailers other than Aldi and Foodworks, Choice had contracted a private research firm to get it price lists for Woolworths, Coles and IGA.

Some of the information was to have been sourced from specials advertised in Coles and Woolworths brochures.

The Herald understands that it was concern about the accuracy of the information and the political damage it could suffer if it was wrong that made it abandon the project.

"It would have been perfectly understandable if a very large number of consumers had complained that they clicked on a basket they thought would cost them 65 bucks and it ended up costing 74," said one source.

"They would have said, you the government are supporting this website, and it gave us wrong information."

Choice last night fed speculation that it might go ahead with the website on its own, although it said that was only one of a number of options it would consider including legal action against the government.

"We have met the obligations of our contract with the Treasury," said spokesman Christopher Zinn. "The contract made no reference to political risk."

Although the site had been almost ready, it now would not to go live on Wednesday, what ever the organisation decided.

"We have lost three days. I would never say never, but it would take a miracle for us to get it ready by Wednesday now," he said.

Relations between Choice and the new Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson are strained with each accusing the other of being unwilling to talk. Choice says the media heard about the Minister's decision before it did on Friday, and the Minister says Choice refused to attend the pivotal meeting with retailers on Friday that persuaded him to axe the scheme.

Published in today's SMH and Age