RALEIGH – Tired of running out to the store only to find household staples are out of stock? You’re not alone.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there’s been a rush to buy certain items, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, leaving store shelves empty for weeks at a time and many out of luck.

Enter shelfCheck, a new app released this week by a group of college students – Rohit Jain and James Taylor (Duke University), Anthony Guzzo (Rice University), Milen Patel and Viraj Shah (UNC-Chapel Hill), all aged 19.

The app uses crowdsourcing to provide real-time data on in-demand items to consumers in the Triangle area. Users can create a grocery list with multiple items and find the stores nearest to them that suit their needs.

“For us, better service means reducing the number of shopping trips that people have to make,” said Jain. “For vulnerable populations like the elderly and immunosuppressed, this is particularly useful because it means reduced exposure.”

How it started

Flash back two months ago: These former high school buddies found themselves out of school and back at home, with loads of time on their hands.

“We were video-chatting one day and just talking about the pandemic and how it had disrupted our plans. We decided with our free time we’d try to do some kind of project together,” recalled Jain.

Around this time, media outlets were reporting toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages at stores across the country.

Jain said major retailers had stopped posting their inventory data online, so the only places you could turn to for information were online forums.

Rohit Jain

Anthony Guzzo

Milen Patel

James Taylor

Viraj Shah

“The difficulty there is that the forums can be disorganized, and the information is hard to consolidate. We talked it over and decided to crowdsource the data — just like a forum does — but to also organize it.”

However, there’s a caveat: Because the platform crowdsources inventory data from shoppers, its accuracy improves only as the number of users increases.

“We want the app to be as accessible and user-friendly as possible because the more crowd-sourcing we can get, the better service our app can provide.”

The app, which is free to use, is currently at Apple and Google Play app stores and is operating in Cary, Morrisville, and Raleigh.

“Right now we’re completely self-funded but definitely exploring options to partner and work with others so that we can grow,” Jain said. “As we build this community of shoppers we plan to expand regionally throughout North Carolina and eventually beyond that to serve as many people as we can.”