Product Evaluations and Guides
Grocery Pal: An Accessible Shopping Helper for Your Smartphone or Tablet
One of the joys of carrying a smartphone is the ability to take my various lists with me wherever I go. Withdraw some cash from the local ATM? Check. Walking the dogs when the sound of a sprinkler reminds me it's time to water my own lawn? It's a cinch to add it to my to-do list and maybe set a reminder for the early morning when it's best to water a lawn.
Grocery shopping is also more convenient when I can add items to our family shopping list as we run out of this or that, when my wife or I discover an interesting recipe, or when we catch an ad for a new product we'd like to try. You can use any text editor or list app to create such a list, but what about all those weekly supermarket in-store specials, loyalty card bonuses, and the smorgasbord of manufacturers' dollar-off coupons you can redeem at checkout? It's possible to save some real money. That is, if you're willing to put in the time and effort scouring supermarket homepages, various consumer product sites, and Facebook fan pages. Here's an easier, one stop solution: the Grocery Pal app from Twicular available for both iOS and Android.
A Quick Overview
The Grocery Pal app offers an easy-to-use interface for creating and managing shopping lists for supermarkets, pharmacies, and discount stores. The app is ad and affiliate marketing sponsored, so it's free both in the iOS App Store and in the Google Play Store. The iOS version works excellently with VoiceOver with only a very few unlabeled buttons that were easy to decipher and relabel. The Android version is also accessible, but on my Nexus 7 running the latest TalkBack beta, I was unable to swipe and double tap to every clickable object and frequently had to rely on Touch to Explore. The Android app is also newer than the iOS version, and one major feature, "Buy Now," is not yet available. Consequently, this review focuses on the iOS version though the Android version is quite similar in features and structure.
Allow location tracking or enter your zip code when you first open the app, and Grocery Pal will compile a fairly comprehensive list of stores in a radius of one to forty miles. For my 32720 Florida zip code, Grocery Pal pinpointed CVS Pharmacy, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Publics, Save-a-Lot, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Winn Dixie within a five-mile radius. Grocery Pal currently supports 130 grocery and pharmacy chains, covering over 40,000 individual locations. If your favorite store isn't on the list, use the app's feedback option to request that it be added.
Double tap the List tab at the bottom of the screen and then double tap "Add," and you're ready to create your first list with the help of a database of over one million products and brands. There are several methods to add items. The simplest way is to double tap the "Add" button just beneath the list name and begin typing an item name. Autocomplete begins to display results after only a few characters, which can help you to browse store aisles for items you didn't even know you wanted. Enter "Heinz" and Grocery Pal autocompletes a list of a number of Heinz products, including ketchup, gravy, and even a Heinz Picnic Pack. Typing "chee" calls up Cheer laundry detergent, cheese, and Cheetos, all three of which are going on my list.
Unfortunately, you are limited to adding a single item at a time, and here's why. After you add an item, a second screen appears with options to increase the quantity and attach a note if desired. Choose the store and aisle so your list will be properly sorted, double tap "Save," and you're ready to add another item to your list. Each of your lists will be sorted alphabetically by grocery aisle, and you can change the order of the aisle labels (Bakery, Beverages, Dairy, etc.) to follow the layout of each of your local stores.
As you shop, double tap the check box beneath each item as you add it to your basket for it to be removed from your list and placed in the app's virtual shopping cart. There's a "Shopping Cart" icon you can double tap to view everything you've purchased, and when you're done, double tap "Cash Register" for your entire list to be archived in "Shopping History," where you can add items to your favorites or re-add them to your next shopping list with a quick double tap.
Adding Weekly Specials and Manufacturer's Coupons
Double tap the Specials tab followed by the icon for your favorite store, and Grocery Pal summons the most recent list of weekly specials you can add directly to your shopping list with a running total of your savings. My local Publics offers at least a score of "Buy One, Get One Free" items every week, and it's the first place I go to start my shopping list.
However, just in case that price isn't the best in town, the confirmation screen also includes a "Compare Other Stores" button. Unfortunately, comparisons are rarely product for product. For example, this week my local Publics has a sale on Kashi Cereal (two for $5), but when I double tap the "Compare Other Stores" button, the results are Kellogg's Applejacks, Fruit Loops, and Corn Pops for $2 per box from Dollar General and a box of Pop Tarts for $1.99 from Walgreens. It's useful information but not quite what I had in mind.
The Coupons tab allows you to browse printable brand coupons and "Save to Card" coupons. The latter automatically adds your selections to your store's loyalty card, but at this writing, the list of supported merchants is still pretty lean.
The printable brand coupons come by way of an affiliation with Coupons.com. You can browse and select as many as you like via Grocery Pal, add them to your shopping list, and then e-mail the coupons themselves to a computer for printing. Be advised, however, that this will require the installation of a Coupons.com browser plugin for your PC or Mac.
Sharing Your List
You can create and manage shopping lists anonymously without a Grocery Pal account. You can also text your list via SMS or e-mail your list with or without your notes. To share your list directly with another Grocery Pal user, however, you will need to set up an account log-in and password. Do this directly from within the app or on the Twicular website.
You can create and manage any number of shopping lists from either your iOS or Android device or, if you'd rather, at Twicular.com. Whichever method you choose, your lists will automatically be synched and updated on any device that uses the same log-in and password. Even more useful, share your list with another Grocery Pal user with the "Read/Write" option that allows each user to add and delete items. This is particularly handy in my household, where I usually create the grocery lists and my wife or stepdaughter adds an item or two and does the actual shopping. I've even added that "one last thing I almost forgot" to the list while my wife was in route to the store. When she opened the app, Grocery Pal reported the list had been updated remotely and re-synched. On another occasion, however, when she had the app running with the list already on-screen, Grocery Pal failed to notify her of my additions, so it's a good idea for the shopper to perform a manual update at least once before reaching the register.
The iOS app offers a "Buy Now" tab that scans the most recently opened lists for potential matches available at online stores with free shipping. Current options include Amazon and Walmart. Results were mixed. Fresh and frozen foods are generally unavailable, but the results for canned and package goods are often on the mark.
My search for Ziploc gallon storage bags returned a generic alternative as the default option, but when I tapped the "See More Choices" button, Grocery Pal provided an exact match. I was presented with a number of choices for those Cheetos on my list, including Jumbo Puffs and Flamin? Hot Mix. Like most online grocery purchases, you'll need plenty of storage space. The Ziploc storage bags came in a 40-count box with three boxes per order. The Cheetos came in various sizes, ranging from a 30-count package of 100-calorie snack packs to a pantry stuffing collection of eight 9.75 ounce bags.
Log in to Amazon or Walmart to make your purchases without leaving the Grocery Pal app. Speed up the process with one-tap sign-in or one-tap checkout, but for security considerations, you cannot set up either unless your device has the passcode lock feature enabled.
Several of the larger chains are implementing online grocery shopping either for pickup or delivery. Google has also recently announced they are working on a same day delivery service that will include at least one major supermarket chain. This is a growing and welcome trend, but for economy of scale, services such as this are usually confined to large metropolitan areas, at least at first. Consequently, it may be several years before these options reach your town. In the meantime, Grocery Pal is a useful, access-friendly shopping assistant. Considering that it's free, it's definitely worth adding to your Apple App Store or Google Play Store shopping list.
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