Published: 19:01, 15 April 2020
| Updated: 14:29, 07 July 2020
A mobile developer from Rainham has just released a new app to help people avoid queues and stock shortages at supermarkets during the coronavirus crisis.
Paul Hulatt's "Supermarket Check In" allows people to check their local supermarket queue and stock levels, using information submitted by other app users of the app, and to "check-in" themselves after shopping to share their own experience.
Paul, 44, from Ploughmans Way in Rainham, decided to use his free time to keep his development skills up-to-date after being furloughed from his role as website and mobile developer, and "Supermarket Check In" is the result.
"We came back from holiday right at the start of this," he explained. "We flew back in from Miami on March 16, so a week before the lockdown, and we were already starting to see the queues out there and finding that we couldn't shop and find toilet rolls and things like that.
"I just thought if only there was some way I could kind of try and make it a bit easier, obviously for myself to start with but for everybody else as well and that's kind of where this came from.
"Effectively none of this information about queues and stock levels exists from any generally available source so all the content on the app is socially generated which means the information the app contains is all generated by the people that use it."
The app shows users a list of stores which they can pick on a map, before entering the date and time and inputting their own information about stock levels and queues, and Paul hopes supermarkets might also get involved with contributing information.
He added: "Hopefully it should help everybody because I think the supermarkets have got a good handle on the queuing situation and limiting the amount of people. The couple of occasions I've been on my essential shop and been to say Asda at Gillingham Pier it's all been very well organised and if anything it's probably been a nicer experience once you do get into the store than it is normally.
"It's nice and relaxed, you can walk up and down the aisles and if you've timed it right the stock levels are good as well. Hopefully there will be a benefit that you won't get that massive glut of people turn up at 6am. People might be able to plan when they visit the shops a bit better.
"We've had a great response on social media, everybody that has seen the app has said what as amazing idea, which is really nice to see and I've got some good reviews on the app store already, which is amazing."
And while being furloughed was far from ideal, he admitted it had helped him work faster on the new idea.
"It would have taken a lot later nights and a lot less sleep for me to get it out there," he said. "I was very aware it needed to be done and out there as quickly as possible to be useful to people while we're in this situation.
"Whilst it wasn't great to find out I was being furloughed and all the financial implications, from an app point of view it was perfect because it enabled me to dedicate my time to get it up and running."
On Wednesday the app was rated number 41 in the Apple Appstore, and people are downloading it in ever greater numbers.
"It feels really good considering the limited amount of promotion," added Paul. "Obviously I'm still working on the app and improving the features and fixing bugs that inevitably come up when you go from three people using it to 3,000 people using it. We're up to around 4,000 users at the moment so considering I launched on Saturday just on the app store is kind of incredible and kind of scary as well."
Supermarket Check-In is available now for iPhone/iPad on the Apple Appstore. Just search "Supermarket Check In" or use this link.
A version for owners of Android phones (Samsung, Google, Huawei etc.) is also available on Google's Play Store.
Video: How the new app could help shoppers navigate supermarkets during the coronavirus outbreak.
Richard Pilton, managing director of Kent tech firm Kayo Digital said the app was a great idea.
"It does exactly what it says on the tin," he said. "It's an app that focuses on the key functionality of what is needed so it's simple and easy to use and I really like the use of crowd-sourcing information.
"I think the reliability of the information really comes down to the number of people that are using it. The more people that are on it the better the information becomes.
"With apps like this it's better to get information from people on the ground experiencing the supermarkets rather than trying to get the supermarkets to update the information themselves. I think it's a really good use of people."