Augmented reality ethical shopping assistant concept

I've been on the look-out for an app that helps people make ethically-informed choices about what they buy. Using your phone as a bar-code scanner to find deals is old hat. You can point an app like Amazon's Flow at a product and it will come back with info and comparative pricing - making it easy to shop around and save money. But there isn't an app that will tell you how "bad" the product is, or help you make a better choice. So I've sketched one out below.

How would it work?

On first use, our shopper sets their ethical preferences. They might care about whether a product....

The shopper snaps potential purchases with their smartphone, and sees how well the product rates against their concerns - as well as a simple aggregate green/orange/red to help make a snap decision.

Concept 1: scan and suggest


Two jars of peanut butter from different manufacturers. Our shopper scans them, and the app recognizes each barcode and matches them against the ethical database. One supplier is committed to low-carbon manufacture, treats its suppliers well, and doesn't have any known affiliations with political parties the shopper disagrees strongly with. The other sucks - and is less nutritious to boot. Back on the shelf for you, Mister! It'd be handy if the app made a recommendation for a better alternative.

Concept 2 : best choice on the shelf (augmented reality version)


In the coffee aisle. Our shopper is overwhelmed by the range of choices. Some fair-trade, some organic, others not. Our intrepid shopper snaps a wide shot of the entire section and the app goes to work, labelling the most ethical coffees on the shelves - no need to compare all of them one at at time.

Supermarket shelf photo by lamentables.

Concept 3: the social shelf


Might as well mix in some social elements. Here the app is still showing the two coffee choices that best match the consumer's stated ethical profile, but additionally she's shown that her friend Jean is recommending a third choice. Perhaps that sways her purchase.

Face photo used here originally by GregPC

Concept 4: What's in my cupboard?


It would be neat if you could wave your phone around in there and get a read-out of what products it contains - along with their ethical score.

Ethical consumer data and improving company ethics

The aggregate data from this app could be a powerful asset to supermarkets and consumer brands, as it could help build a real-time picture of how consumers change their behavior when given easy-to-make ethical decisions when shopping. Perhaps this would give companies the incentive they need to improve on their social and environmental impact.

Any apps out there doing something this already?

These ideas aren't new - so can I have an app like this now? Not quite.

IBM are up to something, according to this article.

Barcoo says it supports "Ethic shopping - see whether you support good corporate behavior", but it isn't available in the US, so I couldn't try it firsthand. But you can see the data they have on some products, like this fatty spread: the app tells us that the parent company seems to be in favour of dubious GMO animal feeds, but has decent sustainability credentials.

Good Shopping Guide: This app has some product data, but without a scanner or picture mode.

Why this blog post?

Sometimes I have a website or app idea I can't let go of. Blogging about them sets them free and liberates a bit of head-room. I don't claim that any of this stuff is original and I'm not claiming copyright.

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