… fresh Out Of Milk, or how shopping just got easier

In the past century (and actually also well into the current), when I went on my weekly shopping spree, I made a list. On a sheet of paper.

Shopping made to look like it's fun. Which it isn't. There were two problems with this. First, the list rarely contained everything I needed. It usually contained everything I could think of on Saturday morning, but that was it. Second, it has happened on more occasions than I care (or dare) to count that I arrived in the supermarket, only to discover that I had left the list on the kitchen worktop.

My first attempt at solving this was to write an app for my smartphone myself. I don’t often forget my phone, and I have yet to loose one (knock on wood). This worked fairly well.

I then discovered that Albert Heyn, a country-wide supermarket chain, offered a free app, called Appie (Appie is Dutch colloquial for Albert as well as for applet), which integrated very well with shopping at Albert Heyn. Which was where I did most of my shopping, so that was fine. You could maintain the list on a web site as well as on the smartphone itself, and you could view whatever they had on offer (in de bonus) that week, and add that to your list. Plus, you could even sort the list to get the most efficient route throughout the branch of your choice. Which is great for efficient (usually male) shoppers such as yours truly. In fact, Appie is a great little app that does what it’s supposed to do, never crashes, and integrates seamlessly with actually shopping at Albert Heyn stores.

It is useful to know at this point that I mainly shopped at Albert Heyn because there was no Hoogvliet in our area. When I lived further west, I liked Hoogvliet a *lot* – good prices and a very customer-oriented attitude.
To add insult to injury, Albert Heyn customer awareness has deteriorated profusely over the last couple years.

September 2012, Hoogvliet opened a branch some 7 kilometers away from us. Which, in rural terms, is quite close. Great, now I can once again shop at Hoogvliet. Since then, it has happened on more than one occasion that my wife said “… whoa, that was quick!” as I got back.
Unfortunately, Appie (the Albert Heyn app) integrates somewhat less seamlessly with Hoogvliet as it does with Albert Heyn.

And yes, I know Hoogvliet has its own app, but it sucks eggs, ferociously so.

So, again, I went onto the Intarwub. More specifically, to the Android Market, which, for reasons that I fail to comprehend, is called Google Play. Apparently, Google thinks that the purpose of smartphones is to play games. I beg to differ.

And lo and behold, on the Android Market (yes, I’m stubborn like that), I found a lot more shopping apps than I did a couple years ago. I had a few requirements:

  • I would need to be able to maintain my list on a web site, and sync that with my phone – and the list should also be somewhere in a cloud-type storage, rather than exclusively on the phone itself.
  • I would need to be able to sort the list to my liking, preferably based on a configurable sort order based on where things are in the supermarket of my choice.
  • I would need to be able to maintain several ‘list types’… for instance, a weekly list for my Saturday shopping spree, a list for daily shoppings (things we What it looks like on my smartphonemissed on my weekly shopping spree), and things we need from other stores than the supermarket, such as DIY stuff.
  • And ideally, it should be free, because I refuse to get a Google Wallet. I have a PayPal account already, and I don’t see why Google cannot work with PayPal. Well, actually I do see: they don’t want to, because they want to shove Google Wallets down our throats.

I browsed through the apps offered by the Android Market (I will not crack), and downloaded a couple that ticked my boxes, and seemed promising.

Having lived with two of them for a month, I can safely say that Out Of Milk, from a San Francisco, CA-based company called Capigami, fits the bill, and all of my requirements.

It also ticks a few “not needed, but definitely wanted” boxes, such as using the Android speech recognition facility to very reliably recognise items that I speak into my smartphone whenever I am in the kitchen and discover that I am running out of something… and the bar code scanner to add items to the list by pointing the camera at it when I grab the last item on the list. Not that the barcode reading process will automatically come up with the product – the software is from California, not from Nederhorst den Berg or Cothen, so you’d expect Out Of Milk to be blissfully unaware of hagelslag, pindakaas or Hak rode kool met appeltjes. But when it doesn’t recognise a bar code, you can assign a product to it and it’ll recognise the bar code next time.
The web application and the app on your phone are synchronised through an Out-Of-Milk account. Which can be an email address/password combination, a Google+ account, or a Facebook account.

I have now used it for a couple weeks. I can see various good usage scenarios already. Currently, my netbook (running Windows Eight) has a default spot on the dry worktop of the kitchen. If I go into the kitchen, I can switch it on, start the Out of Milk web application, and as I come across that we’re starting to run out of, I can type it in and add it to the list. But I could also grab my phone and add it to the list via voice recognition, or by scanning the bar code. This will definitely help a *lot* in missing items that you were aware of when you were cooking dinner on Tuesday evening, but forgot about on Saturday morning, because the paper scrap you scribbled it on disappeared in the recycle bin.

If you are on a budget, you can also add prices to the items, and it will give you a total amount for the list. I don’t use that feature, because prices are too volatile, The web interfacebecause some of the items are ‘generic’ and can be substituted by others, and because we don’t have any money worries (oooh, knock on wood again).

Another useful feature is that you can (selectively) share your lists with other Out of Milk users. This facilitates you and your Significant Other (or any other household members) to add items to the list as they think of it. Or, when any of them happens to be at a grocery store, acquire items from the list. Because they can be struck through, or removed, with a single gesture, and because the list is updated almost immediately in the cloud storage (provided there is a data connection), the risk of getting items twice when your SO and you are shopping separately is low enough. The lists are shared on a per-list-basis, so no, you don’t have to share your ‘toys wanted’-list with your hubby.

Of course, the use is not limited to grocery shopping. You can create separate lists. I have a list for the DIY store (called Bouwmarkt in the lists in the picture)… if I am in the workshop, and I see that I’m running low on M10 bolts, Pozidriv bits, or WD40, I can just as easily add these to the DIY list as I can add milk to the grocery list when I’m running Out Of Milk.

Another feature it has is a ‘pantry list’. I have to admit that I don’t see myself using this – I’d be happy to, if I see myself running low on something, add it to the shopping list. But I can see a usage scenario for this.

The feature that, for me, is most redundant is the to-do list. I can do this perfectly well with tasks in Outlook. I’ve done that for years, and I cannot see a good reason to stop doing so, also because it integrates well with Google Calendar.

All in all, I would say that this app feels like the authors are using it themselves for their shopping lists. This is “power shopping” at its very best.

Apparently, as of recently, Capigami also does an iPhone version of the app. The above assessment is about the Android app, not about the iPhone app. I haven’t looked at the iPhone app – and those who know me, know that I don’t intend to. Winking smile