RogerBW's Blog

No More Shopping Days 30 March 2021

I vaguely wish I'd known that the most recent shopping trip I'd made would be the last one for the moment.

I've been doing it for about a year, on a regular fortnightly schedule; while I've got reasonably good at it, my wife is still better, and being now some weeks past first vaccination she wants to do it herself again. Which is fair enough. I can now go back to pretending that Normal People are vaguely sensible most of the time rather than having my natural misanthropy topped up twice a month.

Because I am a very technical boy, I built a topological sorter: given lists of things bought on previous trips to a particular shop and the order in which I got them, it'll put a new list into the equivalent order, in other words the order in which I'll find the things on an efficient path through the shop. (Anything that hasn't shown up on a list before is tagged on at the end.) This seems to be a really obvious thing to do, but apparently many people don't feel this way; I haven't heard of a shopping-list app or web site that does it for them. (It wouldn't even have to be complicated for the user: just let the app know which shop you're in perhaps by GPS location, tick off the things as you pick them up with some option for marking a thing as having been got out of order, then next time you go there it'll put your new list into the right sequence.) Of course supermarkets do rearrange things periodically, but none of the shops I've been visiting has done so since last March.

But then I find a supermarket basically unpleasant. I want to be in and out as quickly as possible even before I start considering risks of contagion. Things go into the trolley sorted roughly into hot and cold (or at least ambient temperature and chilled/frozen) on the left-fight axis, and light/fragile at the front to heavy/solid at the back, and through the checkout in as much of the order as I can preserve, so that they can go quickly into bags once I get them to the car; and anything that isn't on my list probably doesn't even get looked at.

I'd like to use a portable scanner and thus skip the checkout, but Lidl don't offer that (there are clearly significant hardware costs); their automatic checkouts are poorly maintained and require manual intervention most of the time. If the option of a scanner did exist I dare say they'd tie it to their shiny new app, with its six separate trackers. Hey ho.


  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:41pm on 30 March 2021

    OK but why no more shopping trips?

    Those of us who follow your life saga might be a little alarmed at this development. Unless the explanation is tagged onto one of the posts about exciting things to do with PERL which I admit to skipping.

    This afternoon I'm going out to get jabbed and have put trousers on (as opposed to shorts) for the first time in months. I'm also told that from April 1st I can relax the stringent rules I have been living under but the government would be ever so grateful if I wouldn't.

    Are you not well? Chris?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:24pm on 30 March 2021

    …er, as I said in the first para after the cut, because Chris is better at shopping than I am and wants to start doing it again, and is several weeks more vaccinated than I am?

  3. Posted by J Michael Cule at 10:39pm on 30 March 2021

    Ah. sorry. Bleary eyed reading and utter failure of comprehension skills.

    Also a lack of understanding of married psychology or something.

  4. Posted by Gus at 12:20pm on 01 April 2021

    Having had the privilege last summer of accompanying Roger on a couple of shopping operations, I can say that whatever effect his technique may have on the enemy, by God it terrifies me. Brutally efficient. But then, I am a haverer by nature.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 01:03pm on 01 April 2021

    Be fair, Gus. I didn't even soften 'em up with artillery before going in with the bayonets.

  6. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:03am on 02 April 2021

    I do a similar optimisation of my path through the shop, except I can't be arsed to use software for it so just do it in my head. I do have a list of what I want, and like Roger if something isn't on the list I probably won't even look at it. People who are paid to make us buy more stuff hate this.

    I saw a documentary about supermarkets where the guy straight up admitted one of the main reasons they move things in the shop is to break people's optimisation of their route and make them look at things they might otherwise never consider buying. I hated them more at that point.

  7. Posted by Chris at 11:46am on 02 April 2021

    Goodness, I have known that since the seventies! I remember the manager of the first supermarket to open in Reading being quite straight about it having been part of his training when he was asked why they kept moving staples around the shop.

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