Google is able to collect this information because it has hundreds of millions of devices in the field. By that we mean phones either using Android’s operating system, or using a Google app (like Mail, Maps, Chrome or otherwise) are sending data back to Google. This data not only details geoposition of a user, but also their dwell times. Using these data Google can interpolate what a business’ wait times are, as well as the length of a typical visit.
This feature will roll out to over 1,000,000 restaurants over the next few weeks and help diners across the world make better, more informed decisions about how to spend their time and money.
But the more comical part part? Merchants don’t even realize how much power these tech companies keep usurping.
According to NPD, 30% of restaurant orders are currently made for takeout. That means a restaurant earns roughly 30% of their revenues from off-premise dining. The frenzy over winning the online ordering and delivery markets is an effort to immediately capture this 30%, which is worth roughly $210B in the US alone. Yet it’s entirely possible that people in the future further prioritize convenience, meaning takeout accounts for more than 30% of a restaurant’s revenues.
And you know what Google just did? Google gave consumers another metric to look at to make their purchasing decision, and it’s without any context or control by the local merchant. Think about this user story as an example.
A hungry consumer starts his dining search online. He looks for Asian cuisine within a five-mile radius with an average review of four stars or better. After finding 10 options, he’s trying to decide which one to visit. His top three choices are all reporting wait times of more than 30 minutes, courtesy of Google. Google now presents this customer with some alternatives: dine at another, similar establishment, or order online through a provider that costs the merchant an additional 25% in commission fees.
In none of these scenarios is the merchant able to direct the consumer where they want them to go.
Merchants have found themselves in this predicament because they’re too hard to work with. Even the largest will not return emails or phone calls. We’ve had many closed-door conversations with tech executives and every single one of them wants to work in brick and mortar without working with brick and mortar. There’s a lot of money to be made by taking a piece of the local commerce pie but it’s impossible to justify the efforts if you must wrestle with the discourteous nature of merchants.
This will only get worse as consumers increasingly use voice as their commerce engine. With voice operations, there’s no user interface for interaction: a user only hears what the machine is reading to them. With online searches a user has a back button and can turn elsewhere on a website to find other options, but on voice platforms that is a much more cumbersome task. So as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft start embedding their voice assistants in all pieces of consumer hardware, they will only increase their influence on how local dollars are spent.
POS companies can head this off by using their heft to better position merchants on consumer platforms. With the four horsemen of US restaurant hospitality representing roughly half the market, there’s no reason why they couldn’t sit down with the tech behemoths to ensure better data transparency on behalf of their merchants. These POS horsemen can line up better technology partners and referrals, in some cases even eliminate extra costs for merchants. For example, why would Google bother referring consumers to a merchant’s Grubhub link (where a 25% commission would be needed) when a horseman can offer* their own free online ordering and stick that link directly on that merchant’s Google profile?
POS and payments companies have the pleasure (or misfortune?) of dealing with brick and mortar merchants already. That gives them a leg up on the tech giants as it relates to implementing useful tools and experiences for their merchant customers. The execution of these potential benefits all depend how forthright these new POS companies will be: with great power comes great responsibility.
We’re watching you.
*We’re not actually recommending the horsemen build these features so much as offer them either through partnerships or purchases of companies that do these core things well.