How to keep your customers safe using Google Maps Popular Times [2021 update]

As COVID-19 continues to impact the planet, our daily lives and movements are limited in order to keep each other safe. One way we try to avoid the virus is by staying clear of crowds, and by visiting public places and stores at off-peak times. 

This change in consumers’ collective behavior has caused a rise in popularity for Google Maps’ Popular Times feature. The feature was initially launched in 2016, however, between March and May this year engagement rose 50%, as people found the feature especially useful to help plan their outings. 

How Popular Times Works 

The Popular Times feature tells you about the amount of people at a location at different times. The busiest hour is used as the benchmark and every other hour is displayed in relation to it. The time slots are marked as either “usually as busy as it gets”, “usually not too busy” or “usually a little busy.” 

The feature also tells you how long people usually spend visiting the place. This is a great tool for consumers as well as retailers. It makes it easier for consumers to stay socially distanced, and plan visits in less popular times. Retailers gain intel on the activity levels in their stores, and can use this to plan shifts, cleaning and safety precautions.   


Google Maps gathers the busyness insights from analysing aggregate and anonymized location history. The data is gathered from people who have opted to turn on the location setting on their Google account. However, as people no longer move about how they used to, using historical data from anytime before the pandemic is no longer a reliable way to predict a place’s busyness. 

The busyness feature now favors information from the last four to six weeks in order to adapt to changing patterns in behavior. At the same time, the additional ‘live’ function can tell you about what is happening at this exact moment in time, which helps with outliers such as big events and special offers.

Becoming Widely Accessible 

Google has expanded the Popular Times and Busyness feature, predicting that it will increase the coverage five times compared to June 2020. New places include outdoor areas like beaches and parks, and more essential places like grocery stores and pharmacies. 

With the new update, people no longer have to search for specific stores or locations in order to get the busyness insights. Now, the insights surface in both Google Maps Directions and right on the map by the location. Additionally, retailers, restaurants and other locations can add health and safety information. This makes it easy for customers to see which safety precautions they need to take, as well as which safety precautions the staff are taking, such as wearing masks or having their temperature taken regularly. 

Another way Google Maps has upgraded this feature is by using duplex conversational technology to call businesses and verify their information on maps and in search. This has helped make more than 3 million updates since April 2020, making sure that the information on Google Maps is always correct and up-to-date. These updates include opening hours, pick-up options, and store inventory information about essentials such as face masks and hand sanitizer.


The new update also includes a ‘Live View’ feature that uses augmented reality to help people find their way, and to learn more about business, or restaurants. In this way, people can quickly learn information such as opening times, busyness, star rating, and health and safety if this information is available.  

As times change, we all have to adapt. Google Maps are constantly evolving its features to help navigate smoothly through the challenges of the pandemic. If you want to learn more about Google Maps and all of the available API’s, join our webinar. 

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