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Apps aim to help shoppers navigate grocery store lineup

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Want to avoid wait times at the grocery or hardware store checkout? Lineup managing apps can help in the effort to maintain physical distance. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

As physical distancing remains key to help stop the spread of COVID-19, a couple of newly-launched apps aim to help keep people away from crowds, by alerting users to real-time waits at grocery stores, restaurants, hardware and liquor stores and even recycling spots.

With howbsy.com (how busy), users across Canada can view real-time waits at stores--listing the number of people inside and how many minutes wait it is to check out. Users search by store name, what's nearby or category--hardware, cafe, post office, etc. App users are encouraged to create a profile and become part of the information network, uploading wait times when they're in line to help those that follow.

A spokesperson at howbsy.com said everyone wants to pitch in and help during a time of crisis, and this app can help alleviate stress for those worried about physical contact.

Andie.work is an AI virtual assistant, launched last week to offer Canadians real-time, local lineup information for a variety of essential items.  Since going online in late April, Andie has processed and provided over 4,000 real-time waiting predictions, with data on over 4,000 liquor, beer and wine stores and about 50,000 grocery stores and pharmacies across the country.

Front-line medical worker Julie Amar said using a lineup monitoring app can be a better bet than the 'lineup with precautions' method that many retailers are taking.

"The risk of contracting COVID-19 or infecting others increases by exposure to more people while waiting in line, even if the two-metre rule is being followed," said Amar. "The goal is to minimize unnecessary exposure to the general population, so if you can find a store where you can avoid a long line up, then it can become another form of  defence."

Based on the information gathered, the Andie app is able to recommend the best and worst times to shop too. According to Andie's AI, Tuesday afternoons between 1:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. is the national 'sweet spot' for the least lineup activity at grocery stores. The second best time is Wednesday between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. This will change and be updated with warmer weather days, but for now, these times predict a 12-minute wait at grocery stores.

In Edmonton and Calgary, Andie also recommends Wednesday mornings between 9:30-11, and Saturdays from 6:15 to 7 p.m. for the shortest lineup times.

As for the worst times to shop, longest lines are to be found Thursdays from 4-6 p.m., Saturdays between 12 and 3 p.m and Sundays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. according to Andie. Nationally, Shoppers Drug Mart and WalMart are the busiest stores on weekends.

The average wait time at independent groceries, specialty shops and smaller stores tends to be less at all times--something to consider when planning where to get your necessities.

 A new open-source tool may also be able to help. The Interactive Map, created by developer Miki Lombardi, displays estimated wait times at grocery stores in your area.

Lombardi said the project, which isn't intended for commercial use, uses real-time data from Google similar to that used for the traffic function in Google Maps. Data from the previous week, including time spent inside a business and wait times at checkout, are also factored into the estimates.

The map, which works around the world, aims to cover an entire city, though data is not available for every store. Pins on the map are colour-coded – from green to red – to show estimated waits from between five to 60 minutes.





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