Self-monitoring of online food purchases: development of the myShop app

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Population Health


Most UK supermarkets offer an online supermarket for ordering food and drink to be delivered and online supermarket shopping is expanding rapidly. The aim of this study is to develop online tools to help shoppers buy more healthy food.
We are developing an online tool called the myShop app. As part of the myShop app, we have already developed a tool that can be used in six online supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrison, Ocado and Waitrose). When using this tool, the shopper is presented with traffic light labelling on all items and their total food at all times when shopping, including when searching and choosing, looking at their basket and at checkout. This allows users to easily compare the healthiness of different products. Most shops only display traffic light labelling when viewing the detailed webpage for each food and even this provision is infrequent. With myShop, the labelling simply appears on the actual supermarket websites, so the user has easy access during their normal shopping in real life. The app can also be used to choose to not be shown unhealthy products to avoid temptation.
For this project we will develop the myShop website (which can be used on tablet, smart-phone or PC) to help shoppers use the myShop app to eat a more healthy diet. The new website will allow users to choose, set and change their healthy eating goals and see changes in how healthy their food shopping is over time (by viewing a graph). They will also be able to get shopping advice, feedback on how they are doing and reminders.
To make the myShop app as useful as possible, we will form a steering group of the research team and two members of the public, who will oversee the project. We will carry out a review of previous studies to find evidence about what has helped people change their diet. We will use this evidence and well proven theories of how to support behaviour change to develop a plan that outlines what is needed for the content and design of the app. We will work with a very experienced website development company to produce a first version of the website.
We will then carry out 'think aloud' interviews with around 20 members of the public, which means asking them to try out the website while we record their views of using it. We will use this feedback to improve the website, and will carry out more interviews to try out the new version, until we have improved it as much as we can. We will ask men and women of different ages and with different levels of education and online experience, to make sure the website is suitable for all types of people. Finally, we will ask another 20 members of the public to use the website in real life for a few weeks (to do at least two online shops), and we will interview them to find out if it is helpful or needs to be changed in any way. At the end of the project we will apply for funding for a bigger study to see whether the website does help people improve their diet.

Technical Summary

Food purchasing environments are a prime setting for interventions aimed at improving diet. In the UK, online supermarket shopping is expanding at a rate of 14% per year. We have built a web browser extension called myShop which can be used in six UK online supermarkets to provide point-of-purchase cues towards healthier food purchasing, such as traffic light labelling of nutritional quality delivered at point of choice, review and checkout, and the option to block presentation of unhealthy foods. For this project, we will build a website (for use on smartphone, tablet or PC) which will support use of the myShop app by means of a range of behaviour change techniques including: self-monitoring the nutritional quality of purchases; goal-setting and tailored feedback; advice on healthy shopping and motivational reminders. We will use a theory, evidence and person-based approach to development. We will review the evidence on dietary behaviour change interventions to identify what features are successful at changing behaviour and to learn from user views of previous interventions. We will carry out a behavioural analysis and create a logic model and guiding principles for the design features of the website, which will be created by an experienced digital agency. We will carry out around 20 think aloud interviews with users recruited from the general population to elicit feedback which will inform improvements to the prototype website. To ensure the opinions of lower socioeconomic groups are included we will recruit using adverts in local buy-and-sell websites and face-to-face recruitment at discount supermarket chains. A further 20 participants will be asked to use the website for several weeks and will then be interviewed about their experiences to inform final modifications and to confirm accessibility, usability, acceptability and feasibility. This work will form the basis of a proposal for a trial to evaluate effectiveness at changing dietary behaviour.

Planned Impact

At the end of this project we will have produced the myShop app - the first digital behaviour change intervention that alters the real-life food environment to influence behaviour at the point of decision making. If shown to be successful at improving the healthiness of shopping behaviour in subsequent experimental studies, we will aim to make the myShop app a digital intervention recommended by the NHS. Other recommended dietary interventions (e.g. the Sugar Smart app) have been downloaded more than a million times, demonstrating the potential of digital behaviour change interventions to have substantial reach within the UK. Throughout the development of the myShop app we will proactively engage with lower socioeconomic groups to overcome barriers within these groups to using the myShop app, with the aim of ensuring that a successful myShop app is used equally across all socioeconomic groups. We will make the myShop app free to all users to maximise potential reach.
Beyond the self-monitoring application described in this proposal, the myShop app also represents a powerful tool for delivering interventions and measuring food purchasing behaviour. These features could be used for innovative randomised experiments of the influence of environmental features (such as labelling, health claims and promotions) on shopping behaviour. Currently, trials of environmental features in real-life shopping scenarios are often impossible. In this way, the myShop app could have an important influence on the quality of evidence supporting public health policies in the UK and elsewhere.
Description COPPER: CO-designing for healthy People and Planet: food Economic policy Research
Amount £1,411,734 (GBP)
Funding ID NIHR133887 
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2022 
End 04/2025
Description NIHR Oxford BRC
Amount £113,718,828 (GBP)
Funding ID IS-BRC-1215-20008 
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2022
Description Global Initiative partnership 
Organisation Global Initiative
Country Switzerland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The research team has worked closely with Global Initiative, a digital agency based in Oxford ( in the development of the myShop digital intervention. Global Initiative are included in all steering group meetings and are actively engaged in the project development. They have contributed £10,000 from their Initiative Fund to the project.
Collaborator Contribution Global Initiative are in charge of design, user experience and build of the digital intervention under development for this project. They have also provided input into the study design, sharing their experience of user testing of web apps in the development process.
Impact Outputs from this collaboration are still in development. The first stage of user testing of the intervention will commence in April, with further user testing later this year. The digital intervention is due to be completed by December 2019.
Start Year 2017
Title BetterBasket web browser extension (beta version) 
Description The BetterBasket browser extension is an extension to Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox aimed at improving the healthiness of food purchasing by giving point-of-purchase cues. Once activated it provides users with an augmented user experience when they visit one of six online supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Asda, Ocado and Waitrose). Users receive traffic light label information on all of the food and drink products that they view and can see a running total of the nutritional quality of the foods that they have placed in their basket. A beta version of the browser extension will be launched in 2021 to collect user feedback. The software relies on up-to-date information on all food and drink products available in these supermarkets, which is collected using foodDB - a software platform described in the paper Harrington RA, Adhikari V, Rayner M, Scarborough P. Nutrient composition databases in the age of big data: foodDB, a comprehensive, real-time database infrastructure. BMJ Open, 2019 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact No impacts as yet, as user feedback is still being collected. 
Title BetterBasket web portal (pilot version) 
Description The BetterBasket web portal, developed by partners Global Initiative, is a website that users can log into and monitor their online supermarket purchases. The web portal is a behaviour change intervention, aimed at improving the healthiness of food purchasing behaviour. It uses the following mechanisms: self-monitoring; tailored feedback; goal setting; modelling of behaviour. The pilot version was completed in 2020 and an updated version completed in Feb 2021. User feedback is being collected in March 2021. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact No impact as yet, as this is a pilot version of the web portal that is currently being user tested.