After reading about the Buycott app this morning on Forbes, I downloaded it. Wow, does this tool have incredible potential. The interest in the app is also incredible. It’s number 12 of the top free apps on the iPhone right now. When it soared to number 10 for Androids after just being released, the developer had to pull it from the store. The number of users “highlighted a serious bug on certain devices” that needed to be fixed immediately.

Why are so many people interested in this app? I think it’s because Buycott is putting valuable information in the hands of consumers that help us choose what we want to spend our money on. It’s one of the best tools I’ve come across that will help me “vote with my dollars,” as the popular saying goes.

Buycott’s description on the iTunes store says it “helps you organize your everyday consumer spending to support causes you believe in.” Here’s how it works.

  • Download the app and create an account.
  • Take a look at the list of campaigns featured on the app, and join the campaigns that you’re interested in.
  • Scan the barcodes on the groceries or other items you’re considering purchasing. The app will tell you, based on what the company that owns the brand supports, if it’s a brand you would want to buy or not buy.
Here’s a concrete example. If GMO labeling is an issue that is important to you (it most definitely is to me), you can join two campaigns on Buycott. The first is “Demand GMO Labeling.” If you join this campaign, any time you scan a product from a company that donated more than $150,000 to oppose GMO labeling in California, the app will tell you that you’re avoiding buying products from that brand.

You can also join the “Support Prop 37 Donors.” Proposition 37 was the GMO labeling bill that was defeated in California last November. If you join this campaign, when you scan the barcode of a company that gave money in support of Proposition 37 and GMO labeling, the app will tell you that you want to support that brand.

You can see in the screenshot at the top of the page that a scan I did of an Annie’s Homegrown product gave me the following information.

  • I want to support that brand.
  • Annie’s donated $50,000 to support GMO-labeling.
  • I’m being given this information because I joined the campaign “Support Prop 37 Donors.”
What other information do you get when you scan a product?
  • You can look up “ownership structure of any product and trace it all the way back to its parent company” with the “interactive family tree diagram.”
  • You get contact data (phone numbers, websites sites, Facebook pages) for companies and brands in case you want to “inform them of your decision to support or avoid their products.”
  • If a brand has nothing to do with a campaign that you’ve joined, you’ll get a message that says “no campaign conflicts,” but you’ll still be able to see the contact information and the family tree information for the product.
Users of the app can also create their own campaigns, so this app will be useful to both those interested in what could be labeled as “liberal” campaigns and “conservative” campaigns. Under “Human Rights Campaigns” there are two that help consumers avoid companies that support abortion rights. I’m okay with the app giving users the ability to create conservative campaigns like that. People I don’t agree with have the right to vote with their dollars, too.

The potential of an app like this is great. There are some problems with it, though. Obviously, the Android version had major issues. The iPhone version only worked for me intermittently while I was testing it out this morning. I assume it’s because of a high volume of usage, something it seems the developer didn’t anticipate happening so quickly.

While these issues are hassle for the user, the fact that so many people are looking for this type of information so they can spend their money wisely is encouraging. I’m willing to give the developer time to work out the kinks without complaining.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Buycott app helps you vote with your dollars
A new app scans grocery barcodes and more for information about the brand’s parent companies and where those companies spend their money.