Technology has changed the way we look and think about everyday items. Twenty years ago, a map was a heavily-folded piece of paper in the glovebox that got you near to your destination. With smartphones and GPS, a map is often a mobile app with the ability to get the driver to their exact location and provide up-to-date information about the surrounding area. Google, whose Google Maps app has been a leading force behind many of these changes, is introducing a new feature to Google Now that will let people know when a business is busiest using technology similar to its traffic reporting on maps.
On Google Now profiles for a business, there will sometimes be a bar graph that shows when foot traffic to the location is peaks and ebbs. The feature is available across the globe, but currently only works the desktop and Android mobile versions of Google Now, the built-in intelligent personal assistant available within the Google Search mobile application for Android and iOS, and the Google Chrome web browser on desktops.
“Do you ever find yourself trying to avoid long lines or wondering when is the best time to go grocery shopping, pick up coffee or hit the gym (hint: avoid Monday after work)? You’re in luck,” the company wrote in a Google+ post. “Now, you can avoid the wait and see the busiest times of the week at millions of places and businesses around the world directly from Google Search. For example, just search for “Blue Bottle Williamsburg”, tap on the title and see how busy it gets throughout the day. Enjoy your extra time!”
The system is basically an extension of the technology that allows Google to give traffic information. Though the data is anonymous, it’s possible for Google to know how many mobile phones using its operating system or apps are in a given location. Google can then use the rise in fall in those numbers to estimate traffic in general for a location.
In a statement, Google confirmed that, “the information is based on anonymized and aggregated visits to places from Google users who have opted-in to sharing location data.”
The addition of foot traffic information is certainly valuable to consumers. Very few people like waiting in line or visiting crowded retail locations. However, this can be disadvantageous to business owners, who generally want as many customers to come to them as possible. Giving mobile customers information that says Coffee Spot A is less busy than Coffee Spot B at a certain time may cost Coffee Spot B customers. Similarly, a new bar that’s trying to build its clientele wouldn’t want to make it readily known that few people visit their establishment on Tuesday evenings, as it would discourage people who want to go to the most popular spots.
Google recognizes that some business owners will have reservations about foot traffic information being available. In a FAQ by Google’s Mike Blumenthal, it’s revealed that there is no way for businesses to opt out of this information being shared.
In the response to the relevant section of the F.A.Q., he writes, “We do not offer a way for businesses to remove this information. We believe this information is valuable for customers in deciding when and where to go.”
So like it or lump it, business owners will have to come to terms with the fact that people will no what the foot traffic to their establishment looks like.
For more information about recent changes to Google, read this article about new PPC targeting options for Google Adwords.