In today’s update, read about the gradual easing of restricted business operations in several states; Foursquare’s updated study of foot traffic during the pandemic; new offerings from adapting businesses; older reviews and Q&A reappearing in GMB; Bing’s new help page for COVID-19 updates; and how to showcase your products in GMB.
Business across the U.S. prepare to reopen
As restrictions on non-essential businesses gradually lift in many states, businesses across the country are preparing to reopen, with changes to typical operations in support of the fight against coronavirus. Reopening plans and regulations differ significantly from state to state, based on conditions on the ground as well as the decisions of independent state governments. For multi-location businesses, navigating the changing rules on a state by state basis may prove especially challenging.
For example, Florida starting on May 4 will allow restaurants to reopen with outdoor seating, allowing for six feet of space between tables, or indoor seating at 25% capacity. Retail stores can also reopen at 25% capacity, but bars, gyms, hair salons, and movie theaters will remain closed. Whereas in Georgia, a somewhat different list of businesses was allowed to reopen in late April, and in some states like California and Hawaii, only certain special exceptions have been made, such as reopening medical facilities for elective surgeries. CNN has published a useful breakdown of reopening plans by state.
The CDC has issued an extensive set of guidelines for businesses planning to reopen, with advice on sanitation procedures and ways to maintain social distancing. The guidelines are broken down by industry, with specific recommendations for doctors and dentists, pharmacies, airlines, restaurants, and more.
Brandify has published a guide to help businesses communicate their reopening plans and modified services on local search channels.
Foursquare updates foot traffic study
Last week, Foursquare published the 7th update to its foot traffic study analyzing consumer visit patterns in light of the coronavirus pandemic. In this update, Foursquare finds that consumers are expressing a degree of eagerness to return to normal, with upticks in visits to various places, regardless of the restrictions in individual states.
Visits to fast-food restaurants and gas stations, for example, have returned to pre-pandemic levels in the Midwest and in rural areas in other states, with fast food visits down only 5% nationally over pre-pandemic levels. Visits to home improvement stores have gone up 20% nationally in the last two weeks. Gas station and auto shop visits are at or near pre-pandemic levels in many regions.
As for grocery stores, where visits spiked due to panic buying in March, consumers also returned to normal visitation patterns starting around the week ending April 12. Hardware stores, on the other hand, continue their upward trend as consumers stuck at home look to home improvement projects as a way to pass the time. Visits to hardware stores, according to Foursquare data, are up 56% as of April 24.
Businesses adapt to pandemic with innovative offerings
Several brands, government authorities, and supporting technology vendors have launched offerings to help consumers do business safely during the pandemic. A few examples:
Walmart is offering a new two-hour Express Delivery service for grocery, electronics, and many other items, with plans to expand the service to 2,000 stores in coming weeks.
Kroger has launched Kroger Pay, a new contactless payment solution that lets grocery customers check out using a QR code after adding payment information in the Kroger app.
El Pollo Loco, noting record growth in online ordering and delivery, has announced plans to improve its drive-though, takeout, and mobile ordering experience.
Chick-fil-A is offering a new meal kit for customers eating at home, available for pickup or delivery.
The state of Texas has begun a new “retail-to-go” initiative as part of its gradual reopening, with businesses of all kinds offering contactless curbside pickup of items selected by customers online or by calling the store to check inventory.
Sam’s Club has a new concierge service for seniors and those at greater risk, where customers can stay inside their vehicles and staff will take their orders, retrieve items, and collect payment.
Shopping mall owner Kimco Realty plans to roll out designated curbside pickup parking spaces in malls across the nation.
Older reviews and Q&A begin to reappear in Google My Business
During the period from March 20 to approximately April 10, reviews and Q&A were disabled in Google My Business, as part of Google’s plan to conserve bandwidth and reduce misinformation during the early phase of the pandemic. Around April 10, new reviews began to appear, but those that may have been written during the disablement period -- when consumers could still write reviews, but Google withheld them from publication -- were still not appearing.
Over the last week, users have begun noticing older reviews from late March and early April showing live in GMB profiles. It appears these delayed reviews are rolling out slowly, possibly starting with dining and shopping categories. Q&A too have been spotted in publication again. All Q&A content had been hidden from view, but is now gradually reappearing, though in tests we’ve conducted, some Q&A content has disappeared after it reappears, and publication of new questions and answers seems to be delayed. Clearly a full restoration of service has not yet occurred.
Bing Places launches new help page with COVID-19 guidelines
Bing Places has created an FAQ page to help businesses communicate pandemic-related updates to customers. New and existing features covered in the help page include a special COVID-19 announcement field, special hours, and a temporary closure flag. Bing has also launched a new feature that lets businesses link to GoFundMe campaigns from their Bing Places profiles. Bing notes that special announcements must be created using the desktop version of the Bing Places dashboard.
A guide to GMB Products and Product Posts
Claire Carlile has published a useful guide to GMB Product lists and Product Posts on the LocalU website. Carlile notes that the Product post type and the Product tab in GMB have different points of origin in GMB’s history, and used to be displayed separately in SERPs. These differences have recently gone away, however, and Products now appear prominently in the same special section of the GMB business profile no matter whether they are added as Posts or as items in a Product list.
Products are visible to users in the Products tab of a business profile on mobile devices and in a special Products section of the Knowledge Panel on desktop. Carlile suggests using UTM parameters in ordering buttons to track traffic from Product listings. She notes that Product lists may be preferable to Product Posts due to the fact that Posts are archived after 7 days, but they can be used in combination, with lists offering evergreen content and Posts highlighting specials and seasonal offerings.