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BusinessApril 7, 2020

The crowdsourced site to beat the lockdown supermarket queues

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For those keen to avoid the long and awkward queues at supermarkets, there may be a new technological solution.

Long supermarket lines have become the bane of the lockdown era, with many people worried that the overcrowding and long wait times may burst their bubbles. Those concerns have prompted a Dunedin-based software engineer to create a website that lets users check how long the queue is at their local supermarket.

“I just wanted to know how busy the shops were, how many people were waiting out the front to get inside,” developer Gareth Hayes told the Otago Daily Times.

“There’s no point in everyone going all at once, which seems to be happening quite a lot.”

The site was originally Dunedin focused but is quickly growing to cover the country. Among the frequently asked questions listed on the site is: “This looks like it’s just for Dunedin. Can you do the same for Auckland?” The answer: “Sorry to hear that you are not in Dunedin, which most people agree is the best place to live,” before going on to explain that it works anywhere.

Howlongistheline uses your device’s location to tell you how many people are or have been at nearby supermarkets at a particular hour, so that you can time your visit for the quieter moments. For it to work effectively, however, people at supermarkets need to feed in the approximate number of people waiting in line using the slider. The more people uploading figures to website the more accurate it will be.

How long is the line at Countdown Mt Wellington?

The website is open source, meaning any user can make necessary changes and add a store that was open during lockdown.

The Otago Daily Times reported that people had already started uploading information and supermarket staff had also contacted Hayes to praise the website, which could be especially helpful for older people, those who are frightened of contamination and folks who simply dislike being around other people.

“Give the site a go, see if it helps you and let me know if there is anything I can do to make it better,” Hayes said.

Similar concepts are being trialled by supermarkets in Auckland, whereby a customer can register to join a virtual queue via text, and then be notified on their phones when it’s their turn to enter the store.

Foodstuffs, which owns New World, Pak’n Save, Four Square and Raeward Fresh supermarkets, is trialling the virtual check-in which will allow customers to go for a walk or wait in their cars until it’s their turn to shop. Customers will show their text confirmation to the  store check-in team to get inside.

However because the average virtual wait time varied by how busy the store was, a customer could potentially use Howlongistheline to find a quiet time at their local supermarket, and then register in the virtual queue for an almost completely insulated experience.

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