6 Ways Retailers Can Use Google Maps Platform to Survive & Thrive During a Pandemic & Beyond

By Edrick Pirveysian | Director of Account Management

The COVID-19 pandemic forced tens of thousands of retailers across the U.S. to either temporarily close or dramatically alter their business models. Now, many state governments are starting to ease lockdown rules and gradually allow stores to reopen, but “reopening” is not as simple as unlocking the doors. Retailers must contend not only with new safety and health mandates from government officials, such as face masks and limits on how many customers can be inside a store at a time, but also dramatically different customer expectations.

COVID-19 accelerated many inexorable trends, most notably customers shifting away from brick-and-mortar and cash payments and towards eCommerce and digital payments. To survive the post-pandemic new normal, retailers will need to alter their services and business models, perhaps profoundly, to cater to new consumer expectations while complying with government regulations.

Using Google Maps Platform, retailers can leverage location-based data and insights to overcome many of the challenges they face in the post-pandemic marketplace. From real-time customer engagement to asset tracking and analytics, retailers can not only adapt to new shopping patterns but also provide a customer service experience that in some ways exceeds the “old normal.” Here are 6 potential use cases:

1. Keep Customers Informed About Business Hours and Temporary Closures

As states loosen restrictions and allow “non-essential” stores to gradually reopen, they’re having to adopt many of the same policies as grocers and other retailers that remained open during the lockdowns. These include abbreviated operating hours, limiting how many customers can enter the store at once, and dedicated shopping hours for senior citizens and frontline healthcare workers. In times of uncertainty, it’s especially important that retailers ensure customers are armed with accurate information. Not only does Google Maps Platform help retailers keep their customers apprised of operating hours, but it also enables them to inform customers about current operational status. To provide the most up-to-date representation of the real world, Google Maps Platform recently announced that temporary closure information is now available through the Places API

2. Offer Real-Time Tracking for In-Store and Curbside Pickups

In the post-COVID world, cash is no longer king. A whopping 87% of consumers now prefer to shop in stores with touchless payments or “robust self-checkout options.” Ordering products online for pickup in-store or curbside aren’t conveniences anymore; consumers expect them. The Google Maps Platform APIs make this process as seamless for customers as possible:

  • The Places Autocomplete API allows for faster and more accurate address entry of the customer’s home location during the checkout process.
  • A combination of the Geocoding API, Distance Matrix API, and the Google Maps APIs for JavaScript, Android, and iOS can identify the closest pick-up location to the customer and display it to them on a map.
  • The Directions API enhances the map, with turn-by-turn directions to the pickup location, complete with real-time traffic information.
  • Retailers can also use the Distance Matrix API to estimate the customer’s arrival time and have their order ready for pickup.

3. Provide Accurate Delivery Times

COVID-19 laid bare some serious weaknesses in the consumer goods supply chain. Overall, consumers are understanding of these issues — so long as retailers communicate. A survey by Convey Inc. found that 96% of consumers are willing to give retailers more time to deliver items during the pandemic. However, 86% said that it was important or very important for retailers to let them know when their items will arrive, and 70% are less likely to come back to a store that does not inform them of a delay in advance.

Displaying an item’s estimated delivery date on the product page or in the shopping cart gives retailers a distinct edge; 75% of respondents to the Convey survey said this makes them more likely to purchase. With Google Maps Platform, retailers can use geolocation to display estimated delivery times for each product before the consumer adds it to their cart, and then provide real-time delivery tracking once the order is in process.

4. Simplify Delivery to Locations Without Traditional Addresses

As e-commerce continues to grow in emerging markets, retailers are encountering difficult logistics conundrums when it comes to parcel deliveries. The UN estimates that nearly four billion people reside in locations without street names or numbers. In addition, many would be surprised to learn that one in every five Americans lives in a rural area, many without typical mailing addresses. Last-mile delivery to these rural and emerging market consumers can be challenging. Google Maps Platform solves this problem with plus codes, simple alphanumeric codes that are derived from latitude and longitude coordinates and can be used just like a traditional address. 

When your customers place an online order, the Place Autocomplete API will automatically start returning plus code suggestions once they type the first letter of their town or locality. This minimizes delivery errors, allows retailers to better serve existing communities, and enables retailers to expand into new areas they couldn’t serve before.

5. Critical Asset Management & Real-Time Tracking

The popularity of delivery services has created a need for businesses to track delivery items, drivers, and company vehicles. Unlike traditional asset tracking solutions, Google Maps Platform offers a centralized solution combining location services with other apps, allowing retailers to create custom tools that meet their specific needs. For example, delivery times can be sped up by using Google Maps coordinates to route delivery requests to the nearest driver. By tracking driver location and real-time traffic information, businesses can be notified if traffic conditions have delayed a delivery — and even suggest an alternative route to the driver. Customer-facing apps can let consumers track the status of their deliveries in real-time.

6. Visualize Business Data

The challenging post-pandemic economic situation has made it more important than ever for businesses to understand where customer demand is coming from. Spreadsheets are great for keeping track of data, but not visualizing it. Google Maps Platform can display critical customer and order data on an easy-to-read map, allowing retailers to see in aggregate whether their business is flourishing or struggling in a particular region. This makes it easier for retailers to see the potential for new business as well as pinpoint problem areas.

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