We now have coupons that clip themselves – so how about a grocery list that makes itself, too?

A major retailer is working to make it a reality. And if it takes off, it could show up at a grocery store near you.

Tesco, Britain’s largest grocery and general merchandise retailer, has introduced a way to add groceries to your shopping list, order them for you automatically and deliver them to your door – either when you run out of something, when there’s a sale, or when you simply have a hankering.

It does this via the web-based automation service IFTTT, short for “If This Then That”. If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, don’t tune out just yet, because you don’t have to understand how it works in order to appreciate how simple it can be to use. IFTTT allows you to create, or select from millions of pre-made, cause-and-effect actions linking different web-based functions. “If I post something to Instagram, then add it to my Facebook page.” “If it’s going to rain tomorrow, then send me an email.” “If it’s bedtime, then mute my phone.”

On IFTTT, these are known as “recipes”. And like kitchen recipes, it can be challenging to create your own, but easy to select ones that someone else has created.

Tesco has now launched its own dedicated IFTTT channel, where users can create or select recipes to help automate their grocery shopping. “If it’s Thursday, then add a gallon of milk to my list.” “If salmon is on sale, then buy some.” “If this weekend’s forecast is warm and sunny, then add burgers and buns to my basket.” A shopping list is put together on Tesco’s online grocery site, and orders can be placed and delivered automatically.


And those recipes are just for starters. IFTTT experts are already using their skills and imaginations to come up with new scenarios to make their groceries buy themselves. “If the price of a product goes below a specified amount, add it to my shopping cart.” “If I hit my daily exercise target on Fitbit, then add a treat to my basket.” “If I mention #party in a Facebook post, then buy tequila.” And so on.

“At Tesco we’re always on the lookout for new and exciting ways for people to shop,” the company posted on its Tesco Labs blog this week. “We’re really interested to see what uses people come up with for this.”

This is just the latest experiment aimed at making shopping easier, and automated. Several online retailers allow you to create “subscriptions” to purchase and deliver items like diapers or detergent that require regular replenishment. Amazon also has its “Dash Buttons,” which you can place around your house and press to order more of something when you need it. And there are even concepts for “smart refrigerators” that will keep track of their contents, and monitor prices and available coupons, then automatically order more when you’re running low and the price is right.

Tesco’s IFTTT channel has only been live for a few days, so it’s not about to replace traditional list-making and shopping just yet. But the possibilities seem virtually limitless. If you have an Amazon Echo voice-command device, you can speak your list to it and the device will work with Tesco to do the rest. You may be able to create a trigger that will add an item to your cart if there’s a high-value digital coupon available. If you’d like a new loaf of white bread every week, you could create a rule to automatically order whatever brand is the most inexpensive that week. If you “like” a recipe online, all of the ingredients can be delivered to your door. And so on.

“Tesco/IFTTT integration is great,” one British tech writer tweeted. “I’ve set it up so that every time I post a photo on Instagram it orders a banana.”

Okay then. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, of course. So when it comes to automating your grocery shopping, we’re either looking at the wave of the future – or validation that an old-fashioned pen and paper is all you really need to make a grocery list.

Unless, that is, you post a lot on Instagram. And really like bananas.

One Comment

  1. As more grocery retailers are starting to offer pre-ordering and curbside pickup services for groceries, they’ve had to start pushing the pricing databases out into the public. Accordingly, it’s become easy to price-shop for sales that may not be advertised in the flyer. Historically, you almost had to walk the aisles and look at everything to find unadvertised sales on the products you buy.

    That’s changed some with the proliferation of grocery coupon and deal blogs, but there are still plenty of unadvertised items that go unnoticed that may be a great deal for you, but you never know about until it’s too late. An IFTTT system would be amazingly powerful for the consumer to keep abreast of unadvertised sales and be able to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, that’s something most grocery retailers probably don’t want as an available feature. They’d rather you wander the store looking for deals, maybe even grabbing some full-price impulse buys while you’re at it. I’m not convinced this would be adopted in the US anytime soon since it almost seems like a threat to a retailers bottom line.

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