January 31, 2024

From Paper to Pixels, How the Shopping List Has Become High Tech (And Why it Matters For Brands!)

We’ve all scribbled “milk and eggs” on a scrap of paper that we find months later in a coat pocket. The humble grocery list has come a long way in the last decade, but its history traces back to when the most common tablets were made from clay. From the time humans could etch pictographs into stone, they have been demonstrating organizational strategies that have given historians and modern marketers insights into what individuals are planning to procure for their households before an in-person trade or visit to the grocery store occurs. 

It’s a fascinating history (yes, we’re talking about grocery lists!) and one brand advertisers can capitalize on in its modern incarnation. Check out the infographic below and let's dive into the narrative! 

Clay Carvings and Calligraphy: The Earliest Days of Grocery Lists

Going back millennia, humans have always showcased a knack for planning. Archaeologists have uncovered ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets with cuneiform carvings, dating from as early as 3200 BCE. Examples of the earliest form of writing, these etched tablets were used for everyday record keeping, which included the first iterations of recorded shopping lists. 

A few centuries later, when papyrus became the rage, shopping lists closely followed suit. Some of the earliest forms of writing are these handy reminders to procure wine or vinegar, serving as fascinating historical evidence of our ancestors' need to plan ahead, just like us. Paper lists may always retain their convenience, but the purely analog list-making era would eventually come to an end.

Last Days of Exclusively Analog Lists

Fans of Downton Abbey or followers of specific Reddit lists of unique but archaic tools may be familiar with reusable grocery reminders or “household wants indicators.” These clever devices of the early 1900s provided busy homes with a way to track what grocery items they had on hand and what householders needed at the next run into town. Taking different forms, from stationary wooden peg boards on a kitchen wall to small pocket-sized devices, the reusable reminders served as a precursor to modern digital lists, helping people remember their most-often purchased items at a glance. 

A Digital Shift

The 21st century began a digital revolution, and grocery lists were not immune to the power of the newest handheld devices. Palm Pilots and BlackBerries ushered in a new way to create shopping lists that were always on-the-go. Accessible and easy to update, digital lists have become hot competitors to standard paper versions. As soon as digital lists were born, it was only a few years before marketers began understanding the value these humble lists would hold. 

Pre-Purchase Power: CPG Marketing in the Age of Smart Grocery Lists

With the advent of sophisticated list apps in the late aughts, digital shoppers were given a myriad of ways to track and re-order grocery items with the click of a button. The handy tools at shoppers’ fingertips range from recipe builders to dedicated list apps, and they hold a treasure trove of shopper intent data. From meal planning habits to dietary preferences, these apps paint a vibrant portrait of the consumers’ pre-purchase mindset, which is helpful for consumers and provides valuable data for modern CPG brand marketers. 

So, Why Should Marketers Care About the List Evolution? 

Imagine this: a shopper browsing a recipe app for Wednesday night's dinner. As they add ingredients to their "Dinner Party" list, your branded pasta appears, suggesting perfectly paired sauces. Or, picture a family checking their shared list before a weekend grocery run. Your organic peanut butter is highlighted as a "healthy swap" for their usual brand. In these pre-shop moments, before the physical aisles and shiny logos take over, lies the golden opportunity to influence, nudge, and gently guide consumers toward your product.

Once a simple tool for remembering milk and bread, the grocery list has become a portal into the shopper's mind. In this digital age, it's not just about remembering what to buy; it's about predicting what we might crave and subtly steering us toward brands that fit our needs and desires. So, marketers, pay attention to digital lists. They're not just grocery orders; they're opportunities to win hearts and carts before the first foot ever steps into the store.

As pre-shop intent experts, we know the value of these lists at AdAdapted. Download our pre-shop report to learn more, or schedule some time for a personalized demo today! 

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