Google Now Shows Real-Time Crowds. Meanwhile, Merchants Still Dangerously Ignorant


It was about 18 months ago that Google started publicly forecasting how busy local businesses would be using cell phone data from anyone 1) using an Android device or 2) using a third party device with a Google app (Maps, et. al.) installed.


In the 18 months since, have merchants quantified the implications this is having on their business?

Most assuredly, NO.

Now that merchants were fooled once, Google is pulling another one over: using the same data collection methodologies to display how busy your location is in real-time. This might seem like a nuanced change but it’s significant…

Most people do not plan ahead and instead make decisions on the fly Click To Tweet

That’s why Uber was a real-time app with no scheduled rides until just a few months ago.

That’s why 76% of consumers visit a local store within 24-hours of searching for it.

That’s why companies like Hotel Tonight and last-minute sites exist.

Here’s why merchant should be paying attention to what Google’s doing.

  1. Without understanding how Google’s popular times is impacting your business you have no rational way to adjust inventory, labor and marketing. Considering many merchants have perishable inventory (restaurants) and labor can run 50% of expenditures, it’s dangerous to keep your head in the sand.
  2. What if Google’s information is inaccurate? As discussed previously, Google would like better data to let the public know when places are busy, but brick and mortar merchants are so hard to work with Google worked around them entirely (industry secret: they’re not the only ones with this very rational philosophy). But in the absence of an objective version of truth bad data is better than no data . Considering local merchant growth has underperformed inflation and merchants feel inarguable headwinds from ecommerce and delivery-only kitchens, correcting such information is becoming a necessity for the customer experience.

So what’s a merchant to do? Simple.

  1. Work with a POS company that is able to publish accurate information about when you’re busy. That means the POS company will need access to your POS data, which by extension means the POS company is either a cloud company or has established data replication. POS companies that are participants in RSPA’s POS API working group have a chance to correct your data on Google.
  2. Don’t be fooled by companies that will charge you thousands of dollars a year for a wait list solution. NCR allowed NoWait into its ecosystem to dupe merchants into paying an arm and a leg for something that competitors give away for free… this seems to be a recurring trend with legacy POS providers.
  3. Work with your POS provider to analyze your data and determine how to better align your operations with forecasted trends. This won’t be free, but it will help you leverage data science concepts like machine learning to understand and predict the impact transparency like Google’s popular times is having in your business.

What percent of merchants will plan ahead to responsibly align their business? Probably the same percent of consumers that plan ahead.

As the colloquialism goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Google’s already done it twice; how many times before merchants feel the shame?