How Digital Shopping Lists Work

Apple iPhone
The Apple iPhone is just one of the many devices that lets you make calls, watch movies, check your e-mail and yes, make digital shopping lists.
AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev

It's hard to imagine a time when people didn't carry portable telephones with them everywhere they went. What was life like before e-mail? Believe it or not, personal communication used to be limited to face-to-face interaction or a telephone call. Before that, people actually wrote letters back and forth. By hand.

But now we live in a world of technological dependence. Think about it. Most people today probably wouldn't be happy without a cell phone or a daily visit online to check their e-mail and surf the Web. Like it or not, technology is here to stay. Remember, that can be a good thing.


With personal digital assistants and now smartphones, it's easier than ever before to track, organize and assimilate information. On-demand television, e-mail to your cell phone and even global positioning systems have simplified everyday tasks. One of the newer innovations is digital shopping lists. That's right, there are now devices and computer programs that can actually learn your shopping habits and create a shopping list for you just in case you forgot what you need to buy each week at the grocery store -- a task so many of us do without giving it much thought.

Digital shopping lists are gaining popularity, and why not? They can be very useful, especially for busy moms or people on the go. Many people don't even make shopping lists for the grocery store or keep track of their buying habits. But what if you could have the means to store this information and create lists based on what you need rather than buying items on a whim? Digital shopping lists can help.

Let's start by taking a look at some cool gadgets whose very existence hinge on helping you tackle your grocery shopping.


Benefits of Digital Shopping Lists

A detailed shopping list can save you time in the grocery store. Many digital shopping lists categorize your items, so in theory, you should be able to stay on course and not have to go all over the store for bread when you could have picked it up when you put your English muffins in the cart.

The technology behind this idea is pretty simple. Many digital shopping lists include built-in products. All you have to do is enter the name of the product -- bread, for example. Then, depending on the way the software was developed, the list may give you simple choices of white, whole wheat or rye. Or the developer may have listed brand names and sizes, so if your spouse needs a large can of Del Monte peas, you won't pick up a small can of Green Giant peas instead. All the developers need to do from here is add metadata -- that's information about the product -- such as "canned vegetables" or "bakery" -- and the shopping list will group items together. That keeps you from walking back across the store when you get down to the bottom of the list and find that item you added at the last minute. Digital shopping lists for smartphones often let you check off items from your list, too, so you know what you have left to purchase. Some even let you store favorite items for later, so it's easy to create a new shopping list when you run out of the stuff you use at home every day.


Digital shopping lists are most convenient when they're integrated into the user's daily routine. The Smart Shopper is a $99 device about the size of a cordless phone that you can mount on the wall near your refrigerator. It stores items you want and prints out a detailed list you can take to the store with you when it's time to restock the fridge and pantry. The Smart Shopper works by voice recognition, so all you have to do is tell it what to add and the device tabulates everything for you.

Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung took a different approach. Rather than mounting a device near your fridge, Samsung has been working on a smart refrigerator meant to help users create grocery lists based on inventory inside the box itself. Tabbed for release sometime in 2009, the smart refrigerator will use radio frequency identification [RFID] tags imbedded in products, such as your milk carton, to keep track of the inventory. What's more, the refrigerator is supposed to send a message to your cell phone or e-mail when a product is running low and in need of replenishment. Grocery stores will have the ability to link with the system and, if the service is available, deliver your groceries.

These devices are great for organization -- that is, when you can think of them and whenever you happen to be around the house. But what about creating a digital shopping list when you're away from home? You can do that, too, as well as make a digital shopping list for non-grocery items. We'll learn about those concepts in the next section.


Creating a Digital Shopping List

Some digital shopping lists aren't limited to the products you'd find in grocery stores. There are several available, and many of them are free. Sites such as give you the ability to create and add to a digital shopping list from your computer or smart phone. These sites have the same features as dedicated home-based units and can be accessed from anywhere you have an Internet connection. You can create a shopping list with products from all over the Internet with Google's shopping list. Build wish lists and shopping lists at or

Another option aimed at smartphone users is the Listingly application. Listingly helps you create grocery shopping lists, wish lists and even to-do lists. What's even better, you can take these lists anywhere you want, because they're designed to work well on your iPhone or Blackberry. You can print them out, too, if you like. Other lists for iPhones or iPod Touches include OneTrip, Groceries and GroceryIQ. BlackBerry users might look at SplashShopper or ShopMagic. And Android users can try out CompareEverywhere and GoCart.


Online retail Web sites are getting into the action, too, by integrating digital shopping lists into their own retail sites., for instance, features a virtual shopping list feature designed to help you make your online shopping experience more efficient. You can save these lists and keep them handy for when you're ready to buy the items you've stored. With all of your account information already on file, all you have to do is check off the items on the list and proceed to the check out. Of course, these lists are proprietary and can't be transferred from one site to the next without a little cut-and-paste work on your part.

Digital shopping lists are handy in many ways. In fact, the more your use them, the more you'll probably find they're as essential to your daily life as all that other technology you've come to depend on.

For more information on digital shopping lists and related technologies, take a look at the next page.


Lots More Information

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  • Fox News. "Congress set to end tax-free online shopping." April 20, 2009. (April 22, 2009),2933,516988,00.html "Digital shopping list?" (April 24, 2009)
  • "Shopping list site combines desktop power with cell phone flexibility." April 17, 2007. (April 24, 2009)
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