Milk, Eggs, Bread: Mobile Food Shoppers Still Need It Simple

There is nothing more basic, boring or essential than a shopping list. We write them on our hands, on the backs of envelopes, dictate them to Siri or just tell our spouse to “remember to remind me.” For all of the wonderful gadgetry we now have to bring to the store aisles, it turns out that even shopping apps still need to get the basics right -- milk, bread and eggs.

The folks at just updated their very popular grocery companion, Grocery IQ, to version 2.6. They passed along some data that is as interesting as it is essentially boring. The most common items added to shopping lists in the app are:











Toilet Paper


Yes -- unsurprising, but also instructive. Mobile apps are at their best when they are facilitating rituals and patterns that we already have. The staggering blandness of the typical American’s food shopping list reminds us how basic and predictable many of our core needs can be. My guess is that the majority of us make our mobile lists using the built-in notepad on our deck.

But what marketing benefit is there in that? Much of the list Grocery IQ supplied is made up of staples from which few of us has a brand knowledge, let alone a preference. The challenge for the modern shopping app is to keep it simple and find ways of weaving marketing offers into a process that most of us reduce to scrawling on a post-it.

Sure, there are focused and serious grocery consumers -- the ones who digest the weekly circulars. For them, perhaps the art of finding the best bargain is a job unto itself. Apps like Grocery IQ are made for them. This is a widely reviewed and generally popular app. It ranks 48th in popularity in the free section of the iPhone Lifestyle category. An app that actually snaps images of physical coupons for use in-store is well ahead of it at #2 right now. Clearly, there is a battle of feature sets going on.

The version 2.6 upgrade launching today for iOS pours on the bells and whistles. Voice recognition allows the user to dictate multiple items for the shopping list. Predictive searching will make it easier to build brand-specific lists. And you can keep the list synchronized across mobile and Web, and even among other members of the family. Coupons in the database also will be matched up with items on your shopping list.

This may all be too much for me. Siri will likely remain my shopping buddy. But for that important niche of semi-pro food shoppers, third parties are fighting to get into their proactive habits. I am still undecided on whether some of these mobile tools will become standard for many of us. Will we build shopping lists by scanning UPC codes on our shelves? Will we do it if it packs coupons and savings into our store loyalty cards? Obviously, some people are already doing this in their apps.

But I think most of us do a bother-to-benefit calculation on a lot of this stuff. I am old enough to remember how Personal Information Managers (remembers PIMs?) Like Lotus Agenda and GrandView were going to hyper-organize our lives, help us filter out the clutter, etc. But all of these apps also required some organized input of data to work their magic. Most of us discovered that hyper-organizers worked best for the already hyper-organized –- those who had the discipline and the stamina to do the front-end input work. Many of these shopping apps seem to understand that legendary problem with any kind of digital organizer, so they are trying to make the input experience smoother and the back-end value more obvious.

I will try to live up to the digital expectation.

“Siri, remind me to put my loyalty card number in that shopping app…tomorrow.”  

2 comments about "Milk, Eggs, Bread: Mobile Food Shoppers Still Need It Simple ".
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  1. David Engel from Mobile+Positive, May 9, 2012 at 1:13 p.m.

    Great point, "Mobile apps are at their best when they are facilitating rituals and patterns that we already have." One of the rituals we already have is to pay more attention to our phones than in-store signage at grocery stores. BRAND marketers should figure out ways use mobile display and rich media to remind us that we like Oreo when we're walking through the aisles at Safeway.

  2. David Engel from Mobile+Positive, May 9, 2012 at 1:14 p.m.

    Oreo should also be reminding me of their existence when I am searching for the nearest Vons location.

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