In this week’s update, learn about Google’s new testing center listings; COVID-19 info links for healthcare providers; updates on new attributes for shopping categories; Infogroup’s crisis response features; the good and the bad for retailers during the pandemic; and plans from Starbucks for a phased reopening.
Google adds testing centers to search
On April 17, Google added a new box to the search results page for searches like “coronavirus testing anaheim.” The box looks like this:
The page it leads to is a version of the local finder (the Maps-like interface that typically links from local packs), but is radically different in appearance from the typical local finder page, offering text descriptions of testing center details next to locations on a map:
Google says the new search pages display information for 2,000 testing centers in 43 states. Attempts to search for testing centers in Maps direct users to Search. Google has also published a help page explaining the new search features, and expects to add support as more testing centers are approved by health authorities. For searchers in states with no approved testing centers, Google is displaying general information about when and how to get tested.
COVID-19 info links showing up for healthcare listings
Google has made several updates to healthcare listings in the last few weeks, launching a help page to assist healthcare providers in communicating services with customers, adding new link fields for COVID-19 info and telehealth, and adding an “Online care available” attribute. In a blog post from April 10 focused on virtual care, Google shared a screenshot that showed how the new links would display in Search. Now, we’ve begun to notice the COVID-19 info link in the wild, as the following example illustrates.
When I tested this location, the link displayed for me in mobile web search on Safari for iPhone, but not Chrome, and did not display in the desktop Knowledge Panel or in the Maps app, indicating that the rollout is not complete. Telehealth links will likely be displayed soon as well. Note that the COVID-19 info links in healthcare listings are specifically designed to provide information to prospective visitors, as indicated by the heading in the screenshot.
New shopping attributes displaying, but sporadically
Google announced on April 10 that some new shopping attributes would soon display more prominently in Search and Maps, including curbside pickup, in-store pickup, and delivery. The attributes began to be noticed in specific searches over the course of the last week, though their appearance seems to be somewhat sporadic, and has clearly not yet rolled out to all Google “surfaces,” the company’s term for interface variations such as mobile and desktop Search and Maps, as well as Android and iOS.
Each surface displays information in a slightly different manner, and in the case of the newer attributes, these differences are especially noticeable. To illustrate with an example, note that in the desktop local pack below, two results for “electronics store eugene or” show the “Pickup” attribute.
But in Maps for desktop and the Maps app for iOS, the attributes do not show -- nor do the new attributes yet display next to map pins, a behavior I reported on two weeks ago in relation to restaurant pickup and delivery as well as temporary closure. Also, it appears that “Pickup” is displaying, even in Search, more reliably than “Delivery,” and that no distinction is being made between “In-store pickup” and “Curbside pickup,” though Google indicated such a distinction would be made and implies as much in their help page for retailers affected by COVID-19.
So for example, Video Only Eugene, the first result in the local pack above, shows the following attributes in its About tab in Maps:
Note “Same-day delivery” (not shown in the local pack) and “In-store pickup” (showing as “Pickup” in the local pack).
Though the sporadic display of new attributes is likely frustrating for retailers, it’s probable that this is a transitional state for the new terms, and that they will eventually display more reliably and accurately.
Infogroup adds features to assist with crisis response
Infogroup, the data aggregator known for syndicating local listing information to many online directories, in-car GPS systems, and search platforms, has announced support for new features designed to help in the response to COVID-19. These include a field that lets businesses mark themselves temporarily closed or indicate that they are open but with limited services, such as delivery and pickup only. Businesses can optionally share the date these circumstances began as well as a projected end date. New attribute fields let businesses showcase the availability of delivery, pickup, and online services, as well as permitting businesses to indicate that they are open by appointment only. Finally, a free-text special announcement field lets businesses communicate any other circumstances, safety practices, or special offerings.
Some retailers struggle to stay afloat, others work hard to meet demand
As reported in Forbes, some retailers -- especially those who were already saddled with burdensome debt obligations -- are nearing the brink of bankruptcy due to the effects of COVID-19. JCPenney and Neiman Marcus in particular appear to be close to restructuring, having been forced by the pandemic to close their doors and furlough the majority of workers. The impact of these moves on the economy is significant, with just these two brands accounting for more than 100,000 jobs. Bankruptcy, of course, does not necessarily spell the end of these brands, and may provide a means for survival through the downturn.
While some retailers are struggling to survive, others are facing a different problem: increases in demand that are stretching operational resources. Already Amazon and Walmart have announced massive hiring sprees to meet spikes in demand. Walmart’s sales in March were 20 percent higher than the same period last year. Many other department stores, grocery stores, and other retailers have reported record sales. And in a post-pandemic economy, the definition of essential businesses will likely expand. People may not need new clothes, shoes, or office supplies for a few weeks, but eventually they will. Retailers who are best positioned to succeed will be those who can provide broad selection, convenient local pickup and delivery, flexible online buying options, and effective online-offline cross-integration.
Starbucks plans phased reopening
Starbucks has announced plans to reopen some stores beginning on May 4. Today, all Starbucks in most countries are closed for in-store sales and open only for drive-through -- an amenity offered at 60% of all locations. However, in China, where the pandemic’s impact has declined, about 95% of Starbucks locations have reopened with modified offerings. The global reopening is expected to happen in a phased manner, with some stores continuing to offer drive-through only, while others will provide contact-free pickup in combination with mobile ordering through the Starbucks app. Some may provide delivery, and others may permit to-go orders in the store. As reported in Chain Store Age, CEO Kevin Johnson says that “field leaders will use the local status of the health crisis, guidance from officials, community sentiment and operational readiness of the individual location to inform their decisions.” Starbucks has also extended pay for workers while stores remain closed, as well as additional support for employees directly affected by COVID-19.