A Loaf of Bread, A Container of Milk, And…

Everyone, at some point, has walked into a grocery store and thought, “WTF was I supposed to be getting?” Some of you may have exclaimed it. I often do. Hence the strange looks.

It’s been years and years since grocery stores (and other kinds of stores too) started offering “shopping rewards” in exchange for some demographic and personal information. There’s been plenty of hubbub over the years related to this practice, and some funny screwing with the system, but it’s only seemed to get more popular.

I suspect people in general don’t have a problem with it. We’ve had numerous cards and keyring accessories that have “saved” us likely thousands of dollars over the years.

What I would like to happen now is to have the stores give me access to my data. I want to know how much I’ve spent on beer in the past year. I’d also be curious to see how many bottles of mustard I’ve bought. But that’s only part of how I want to use the data.

I want to walk in the store, swipe my card, and have a shopping list printed for me filled with things I actually might need. The store knows what you buy, how often, and in what quantities. If the data shows I buy toilet paper once every two weeks, why not prompt me on a handy list I pick up in the store that I might need it?

My wife went to the store yesterday morning in advance of the snow storm that blew through to stock up on a few things. Last night I noticed we were running low on toilet paper. We’re not out by any means, but had she known it was “about time” to buy some more she would have picked some up. Especially considering another storm is supposedly on its way tomorrow.

This handy list should only have products on it that I have bought in the past. It isn’t an opportunity to get me to think about buying some crap I don’t need. But from the store’s perspective, it could be an opportunity to upsell me on a product I am extremely likely to purchase anyway.

What am I willing to give in order to get this? Not much. I feel like I have already given enough.

I’ve heard talk of “the future” when our refrigerators will tell us when we are low on milk. The stores we shop at today can already tell us with, I’d suspect, reasonable accuracy when we need a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

There’s many ways to make this type of service a reality now. The data is in their system already. The hardware isn’t that expensive. The human impact…? I suspect most people will agree with me about the concept of this. But the practice of it, the human factor aspect, is what interests me most as you might expect.

Would it slow things down at the entry to the store? Would people worry about other people seeing what they buy on a regular basis? Not that they can’t look in your cart or anything… Most of the questions I can think of have relatively easy solutions. So what’s the hold up? Does this already happen and I don’t live in a cool enough city/state/country?

That reminds me… I need to pick up cat food and litter on the way home tonight. Hopefully writing it down here will help me remember. Or I could use that sticky note that’s sitting not 6 inches away from my keyboard…


  1. That’s a great idea.
    I’m sure that it’s one of those short-sighted “end of scope” deals or even budgets. To us, it’s a logical progression of experience and utility.
    Great reference, btw. ;)

  2. Do you have Giant Eagle in your neck of the woods? I believe they allow their customers to track shopping information through their website, though they don’t do anything interesting with it like you’ve suggested. :)

    I just keep a running tally of my grocery list on my iPhone, and since I never leave that at home, I always have my list ready to go.

  3. I can’t be the only one who recognized the classic Sesame Street reference…”a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter”

    Well done!

  4. You, Kevin, are not the only one. Waves of nostalgia overwhelmed me the second I read that on Twitter.

    And while I’ve already seen electronic shopping carts that track things for you, an advertisement for the refrigerator you described (well, you input the list) as well as an advertisement for a cheap voice recorder you put on your fridge in order to track your grocery list, my love of the sticky overwhelms all.

  5. I believe, though I don’t use them, that online supermarkets in the UK learn what you tend to buy and suggest things, including a full list, when you return to shop online.

    I never got to this stage though, since it was impossible to browse for what I wanted online at the time! One usability issue impaired this usability utopia you speak about.

    Of course, having it there at the real life, bricks and mortar store would be even better and you are so right, they have the information already. Why use it to advertise things that you might like, when it can suggest something you already want, but forgot about!

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