Google is offering help for shoppers trying to figure out when and how to avoid the crowds this holiday shopping season.
The company this week announced a new real-time component to its Popular Times feature in Google Search and Maps that lets people check how busy a particular shopping location is at that moment.
The goal is to give people information for deciding where and when to go shopping based on how crowded or not a specific retail location might be at the time.
Google introduced Popular Times in Google Search in June 2015 as a tool to help people figure out how to avoid long lines and waiting when shopping.
Up to now, the feature has let users check how busy a business location or attraction is likely to be on different days of the week based on past traffic at the location.
It has also let users search how busy a location gets through the day including periods when crowds have historically been the highest and when it has been the lowest. In addition, the company has typically included the most popular times and the average duration of a visit or length of time that people might spend at a particular shopping or business location.
To compute Popular Times Google uses anonymized data that is collected and aggregated from people who have opted-in to having their location history tracked and archived. Popular times and visit durations are shown for all businesses where Google determines there’s data from a sufficient number of people to make an estimate.
The information appears as a Popular Times graph under all of the other information on a business that Google presents in Search and Maps such as is location, website address, phone number and operating hours.
Businesses cannot add the data on their own and Google says it does not offer up the information for locations where there are not enough visitors.
The live visit data that Google has now begun offering will reflect how active the location is in real-time. The data will be constantly updated and overlaid on top of the popular times graph and will let users compare present activity with what is typical for the location at the time.
In addition to getting real-time updates in Popular Times, people using Google Search will now be able to get information on operating hours for all the special services and different departments that a store might have.
For instance, if a store has different service hours for its pharmacy or for its food delivery business or its auto repair shop, Google will now display that information so users can plan their trip better.