Google said Wednesday that it is revamping its mapping app with new features designed to help consumers connect with local businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. A new tool allows people to book virtual appointments, such as online yoga or cooking classes, while giving price estimates for the service. Another update allows stores to list special hours, such as those specifically for the elderly or people with low immunity.
The changes come at a time when local businesses are struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, spurring months of home-keeping orders in various parts of the world. As a result, restaurants and other venues are facing layoffs and closures. One of the new features of the app update is for merchants to ask for customer support by linking to a page that lets people donate or buy gift cards. Google says it is working with PayPal and GoFundMe to make donations.
Takeaway and takeaway businesses surged during the pandemic. Another feature is to have restaurants list their options, including roadside pick-up or meals. Virtual kitchens, which deliver meals but don’t have a restaurant, can also be verified under Google’s business list. Previously, these restaurants did not have this option.
Google also says it aims to help small businesses outside of its mapping service. In late March, Google announced an $800 million program to help institutions struggling with the coronavirus, allocating $340 million in advertising credit to small and medium-sized businesses across industries. These credits will be issued to businesses with active Google Ads accounts and must be redeemed by the end of the year.
But some small businesses say Google’s coronavirus relief package is not deep enough. For example, CEOs of small travel companies that do a lot of marketing on Google’s advertising platform have called on Google to extend the time limit for its advertising creditliness or offer cash refunds.