Just popped down to the supermarket. I keep finding myself looking at the big pile of discarded receipts next to the automatic tills and thinking there's something wrong here.

On the one hand, I (and most people I speak to) have no idea what my supermarket shopping spend is, per month - or how that breaks down, how I might optimise it. On the other hand, supermarkets give us the data we need to look at this and do something about it - and we throw it away.

There's lots of startups out there doing receipt-scanning and saving services, mainly around expense tracking; and smartphone penetration means that soon, if not now, most people will have a camera with them. If you were just concentrating on supermarket receipts, then it ought to be a simpler OCR problem (limited numbers of fonts; limited vocabulary). So technically the bits are in place, or nearly there.

There'd be a benefit for individuals in doing this. One thing I've read about, and observed, in Quantified Self-style discussions, is that if you track something you become more aware of it, and get better at managing it. For instance, when I started using Nike+, my running distances tripled; I'd always wanted to run more, but visualising it helped me actually do that. I understand this is not uncommon.

Quantifying supermarket shopping seems like it would be really useful: people could better understand their spending; they could be encouraged to become more aware of their nutritional intake; and the business providing the scan-and-analyse service would build up a large database of consumer spending behaviour and supermarket prices. I can't believe there isn't value to be extracted from such a database; and as an entity independent of supermarkets this business would be able to selflessly direct consumers to the best prices for their particular shopping - something supermarkets can't do.

I think the big leap would be persuading people to go through the bother of scanning; when you're at the checkout it's a bit fiddly, and you'd need to get into the habit of doing it regularly. So to do this, you probably want some sort of immediate reward, in the form of feedback: instant analysis of what you've just done and what it means for you.

Once exams and the dissertation are past, I might spend a bit more time thinking about this and knocking something together, if I get the chance...
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