How to avoid long supermarket lines during lockdown

If you want to avoid Covid-19 queues at your local supermarket, Google Maps's Popular Times feature can help you time your shopping run.

The tool uses anonymised data from Android phones and Google Maps users to show the most popular times of the day, by hour, to visit any given location.

To see it, go to Google Maps on your computer or smartphone (Android phones come with Google Maps installed. Apple users can download it from the App Store).

Search for a location such as "Hobsonville Countdown", then scroll down past the phone number and website details until you see the "Popular Times" bar chart.

If you're on a laptop, go to the search result pane on the right of the screen after a Google search, then scroll down. You might have to click a "More about ... " down arrow.

Long lines outside supermarkets have been common during lockdown. Photo: Cole Slawson
Long lines outside supermarkets have been common during lockdown. Photo: Cole Slawson
Other tools that could help you skip queues include Dunedin software developer and former Wuhan resident Gareth Hayes' howlongistheline.org - a crowdsourcing effort that relies on users turning on location tracking, then dragging a slider when they're in a queue.

Foodstuffs, which owns New World, Pak'n Save and Four Square, is trialling a virtual check-in for shoppers where they text the supermarket they want to shop in, and get alerted when it's their turn.

The possible solution to shoppers' queuing woes is being trialled at New World Kumeu and Pak'n Save Royal Oak to "overwhelmingly positive customer feedback",
Simon Kennedy, Foodstuffs North Island chief digital officer, says.

Customers are given two options to "check-in" at participating stores – virtually or physically. However, regardless of their choice, all customers check in at entry.

The solution is easy, free and all customers need is a mobile phone.

The four-step process begins when a customer texts to "check in" to secure a place in line.

They will then get a text reply confirming their place, allowing them to wait somewhere else more comfortable, including their car.

The upmarket Farro Fresh chain, meanwhile, is using a QR-code system to let customers pre-register online to save time filling in details when they enter one of its stores.

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