Food News

This New Receipt Design Could Change the Way We Grocery Shop

Netflix data engineer Susie Lu has come up with a brilliant idea.

May 17, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

Meats and seafood: 15 percent. Eggs and dairy: 10 percent. Snacks: 5 percent.

No, these are not the FDA’s new dietary guidelines; they’re a new way to look at the way we’re shopping at the grocery store, courtesy of a data visualization expert at Netflix.

By day, Susie Lu is just that; by night, she’s a comics illustrator (@susie_draws on Instagram) and a painter. And she also spends her downtime visualizing data for fun, aka thinking of ways to represent statistical information in a clear and visually compelling way.

Unless you’re an extreme couponer in your heart of hearts, there’s a good chance that you’ve spent fairly little time reading your receipts, not least because they’re pretty boring to read. That means that, even though each receipt provides an itemized list of what you’re eating on a weekly or monthly basis, you’re probably not getting a clear picture of your diet and eating habits, or your ability to budget, based on your receipts. But now, thanks to Lu, you could:

“I was compelled to think of ways that data visualization could be used to redesign everyday experiences,” Lu told Fast Company. “The receipt was the idea I was most excited to play with first.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“visualization is nice, but only if the data being displayed has been analyzed and conclusions can be drawn so as to suggest some course of action. yep, former IT guy here who has spent more of my life going over spreadsheets and databases than golfing.”
— Chris

Lu’s early designs feature a few key data visualization points that you’d never think to look for otherwise: a bubble chart that reflects how much of your bill was spent on each category, plus percentages, followed by an itemized list that further breaks down your spending. A bar chart under each item shows, for example, what portion of your “meat and seafood” purchases was taken up by a steak versus a chicken, et cetera.

However, at least when it comes to paper receipts, there are still a few physical limitations that made Lu’s idea difficult to execute, one of them being that receipt paper is not meant for high-resolution printing. Secondly, the thermal printers currently available, and used by businesses far and wide, have rather limited artistic ability of their own—they can’t draw horizontal lines, as Lu discovered.

For now, that means Lu’s designs will probably not be coming out of the receipt machine at your neighborhood grocery anytime soon. But perhaps her idea will set the standard for digital receipts. And if any giant grocery chains are on the lookout for a way to drive up a loyal fanbase, we invite you to invest some resources in Lu’s work.

Would you find this new grocery-store receipt useful? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura Guill
    Laura Guill
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Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


Laura G. May 22, 2019
I'll agree with others that I don't quite see the value in this, especially when there may be ways to do something similar within the existing system? At least -- at the grocery chain I shop at, they already subdivide the printed receipt by section: produce, organic produce, dairy/refrigerated, etc. Including a section for locally produced items, as they've made supporting local makers a part of their mission statement. It doesn't have the implication of making you choose healthier foods, but I can still see the proportion of meat to produce to processed goods and so on.
d May 19, 2019
Seeing as how the printing limitations will likely not be revised anytime soon, she could make it into an app...maybe you just scan your receipt and whatever data sets you select upon signup are displayed, or something. I think it's a fabulous seed of an idea that could be infinitely helpful and, for those of us who love geeking out on such things, loads of fun!
Chris May 18, 2019
as others have said, while it may be a good idea in theory, the assumptions used in creating this are incomplete and not well thought out. first, it assumes that people only shop for specific meals and doesn't take into account that people also stock their freezers and pantries. i personally shop at as many as 5 or 6 different stores depending on what's on sale and what i need. this is data collection with no practical application and no way to actually analyze the data. visualization is nice, but only if the data being displayed has been analyzed and conclusions can be drawn so as to suggest some course of action.

yep, former IT guy here who has spent more of my life going over spreadsheets and databases than golfing.
Nancy May 17, 2019
NOT a goid idea.
Big issues:
1) percent dollars spent doesn't equal percent nutrients.
2) Nor does it correlate to how many people are eating the food.
3) gives up more personal data than we are already releasing.
begw May 17, 2019
Rather silly unless one grocery store covers all you need. Seems like more data than we need.
Paula May 17, 2019
This would be most helpful if it tracked this information over a period of time, like a month. I plan our meals around sales and stock up which would skew results for a single receipt. This could work brilliantly online (in an app or loyalty card system) where the printing issues disappear. It would also have limited functionality for people who shop more than one store (e.g. Costco, farmers' market, etc.). But great creative thinking.