How Digital Shopping Lists Work

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.