On Tuesday (July 28), Google announced in a blog post its new search feature, which allows users to search a business and view its busiest times, to presumably pick when you can go there to avoid long lines, service delays and the like.
"The tool is accessed by searching for a retailer, and then tapping on its title," wrote Business Insider's Hayley Peterson (July 29). "A graph appears showing average traffic for every hour of the day." (Click on the above animated GIF.)
"For example, the feature shows that the Shake Shack location in Madison Square Park — which is one of the busiest locations in New York City — has peak traffic on Wednesdays around 7 p.m., Saturdays around 3 p.m., and Sundays around 2 p.m."
Pulling GPS data from users' Google Maps traffic, Google displays a business' average traffic for every hour of the day.
So from where exactly is Google getting this data? The company typically gets traffic data from a number of sources. Most of it stems from the Google Maps application which relies on users' GPS locations. I would speculate that Google identifies a user visit based on the phone's GPS in correlation with the business and entrance data, possibly using the time the device was stopped at the location. Google could likely recognize that a user entered the space based on where the GPS signal degraded. If Google also uses the available Wi-Fi network mapping, the date is likely even more accurate. I would be interested to understand how Google collects all of this data and how accurate it is in various use cases.
So far, I have not seen a document from Google that outlines how the company is doing this. I assume this feature works in a similar way to how Google analyzes auto traffic, as outlined in this blog post.
Of course, it comes as a shock to no one that a grocery store's peak weekday hours are from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. or that a restaurant is busiest at noon and at 6 p.m. (But maybe not: In the Business Insider Shake Shack trial, peak traffic was at 7 p.m. on Wed, 3 p.m. on Sat and 2 p.m. on Sunday –- I wouldn’t have predicted those times.)
I feel like the real value of this data is that it gives a more holistic picture of the business, enhancing the overall search information to the user. If I notice a location is busy or not busy at a certain time, I may decide to adjust my schedule or make a reservation accordingly. I'm searching on Google anyway; this data is just like a bonus.
If I notice a location is busy or not busy at a certain time, I may adjust my schedule or reservation accordingly.
From the retailer's perspective, this data could be helpful to small businesses that don’t track in-depth analytics already. Of course, they’ll have an idea of peak times and required production based on the amount of product they sell and when, the lineups they face, the staff they schedule, etc. However, Google may be revealing additional traffic data to improve their business operations.
That said, one potential drawback for small businesses with lower traffic volumes is that the data may not be statistically relevant enough. Another possible issue is that Google would be unable to differentiate between businesses if they're in very close proximity to each other, like if they're in adjacent stalls at a food court, for example.
In the end, though, having more data is always a good thing. It's up to the consumer and retailer to decide how viable it is and whether or not they should act upon it.