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Tru Valu cashier Lee Scantlebury picks up grocery items for a customer who used the WhatsApp service at the Long Circular Mall branch on Saturday.

Shoppers took advantage of Tru Valu’s innovative WhatsApp service over the weekend, utilising the popular text and voice messaging application to place and collect their order and limiting the time spent in stores while promoting social distancing and adhering to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Customers, local and foreign of all ages utilised the service which proved to be a boon especially to the elderly and those with immune-compromised systems, at the designated Whatsapp service registers at their five locations in El Socorro, Valpark Shopping Plaza, Diamond Vale, Trincity Mall, and Long Circular Mall, the latter two had the bulk of orders.

Sharon, a customer at the Long Circular Mall branch said, “I used the WhatsApp Service to order some groceries yesterday (Friday) and I requested that I collect them today (Saturday). I got a response stating that I could collect them yesterday if I desired to do so. This I did and was very impressed with the service.

“Next week please God, I will order more groceries again.”

Speaking to Guardian Media on Saturday about the background of the service, Kieran Can of Huckleberry Media Company Ltd, the agency responsible for Tru Valu’s digital marketing said, “The Whatsapp Service and Call and Order Service were introduced by Tru Valu earlier this week to mitigate foot traffic coming into stores as a result of the COVID-19 challenge.”

“These services allow persons to send their full list, our staff bundle and prepare and customers come in to collect within a window of time given.

“The service will be provided for the foreseeable future and is handled in a sanitary manner in keeping with guidelines from the Supermarkets Association of T&T (SATT).

“The service was launched directly on Facebook (/truvaluTT) and on Instagram (@truvalusupermarkets) and has been widely shared and circulated­—reflecting that it was a much-needed service at this time.”

He said the service will be promoted further in the press, but the supermarket chain wanted to ensure that its system worked fully before it did that.

Speaking on the uptake of the service, Megan Mohan, Tru Valu Marketing Department said customers at present seemed to be testing the system to ensure its viability.

She said orders ranged from $200 to $500 per person with higher uptake in the Long Circular Mall and Trincity Mall locations, but it was increasing across all branches and they had 100 orders and growing in two days.

Mohan said customers were purchasing the usual items at this time, such as rice, eggs, milk, tea and sugar but not panic buying in any way.

She said customers or persons they designated could pay with either cash or cards and supermarket staff would guide them to the nearest check out for payment.

Mohan said the supermarket had also introduced earlier 7 am to 8 am shopping hours for seniors, the differently-abled and those with immune conditions in line with other supermarkets.

“We have also introduced a Call and Collect service for persons who did not have WhatsApp or data or who didn’t use WhatsApp.”

Explaining the difference between the two services, Mohan said Call and Collect was available Monday to Friday while the WhatsApp service was available seven days a week and both services were from 8 am to 4 pm.

In a statement, Tru Valu’s CEO Sunil Maharajh said, “This is a very informal system which allows customers to contact the Tru Valu store near them and send their list. We are trying to offer this at a time when everyone is justifiably concerned about being in a crowded space such as a supermarket and this will be particularly useful to high-risk customers such as our seniors.”

He said the supermarket had set up additional sinks at its stores to allow both staff and customers the facility to wash their hands easily.

Maharajh said they had mandated their staff to wash their hands every 30 minutes and were also sanitising as much as possible every 30 minutes.

He said, in addition, the supermarket was installing markers on the floor at the checkouts to show their customers where they needed to stand when in line.

Maharajh said this would allow Tru Valu to comply with the requirements for social distancing.