App helps small businesses get discovered


If local store owners are singing the blues this holiday season, it could be from watching shoppers walk out the door after they found a cheaper price online.

"Coming to a store and using it to touch and feel and then buying online. It's hurting businesses, very badly," said Lalin Jinasena. He created a free smartphone app called Elephanti. "Research has found that elephants are actually social animals."

And Elephanti is a social app... kind of. Just like you follow your friends on Twitter and Facebook, Jinasena hopes you'll follow your favorite local stores on Elephanti and save money in the process.

"You can check in, see the discount over there," said Jinasena.

Every store has to offer at least a two percent discount to Elephanti users. In exchange, they get to list their products so users can search for them, as if they were shopping online.

"And it tells you well, here are there stores that sell it. Here are the prices and here are the discounts they're offering," said Jinasena.

Now, local merchants have trouble competing with big online warehouses because owning a store is just plain expensive. Still, some told us they're more than happy to offer a discount to be part of Elephanti because half the battle these days is just getting people to realize they're here.

"We have people walking by they don't know who we are. We have people that want exactly what we have," said Christian Coffinet, the eCosway store owner.

The owner of the eCosway store on Chestnut Street sells everything from toothpaste to brand-name cosmetics. He hopes users will search for those things and discover him. Even a big San Francisco art gallery could use some discovering.

"Every day we find a local person or a local business owner that walks in and says, 'Ah, I didn't even know you were here,'" said Eric Long, the director of the Rodney Lough Jr. Gallery.

The app's earned an endorsement from state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

"To drive people towards local businesses, as opposed to businesses that are outside the state of California," said Yee.

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