Foursquare Uses Location Data to Increase Shopper Safety During Covid-19

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Social distancing has become a new way of life, but in crowded metro areas, it’s not always possible to remain socially distant inside busy places like supermarkets and pharmacies. Shopping during off-peak periods is the best way to avoid crowds, but during the daytime hours, it’s anyone’s guess whether a particular store will be crowded or empty.

Foursquare thinks it has a solution.

The location data and intelligence company recently partnered with LinkNYC and Intersection on a project designed to help New Yorkers plan out when it’s safe to shop. Using Foursquare’s location data, LinkNYC has started posting the average hourly busy-ness levels each day for grocery stores and drug stores on its neighborhood kiosks, which are placed throughout New York City. In the evening, LinkNYC’s kiosks switch to the next day’s information, so New Yorkers can plan out the best time to take advantage of essential services and stores, like groceries and pharmacies.

The data used to power LinkNYC’s kiosk displays is broken down by zip code, and it focuses exclusively on grocery stores and pharmacies, so people can see when stores in the specific neighborhoods surrounding each kiosk are least likely to be busy.

In a real-world setting, this might mean a person walking by a bus stop sees a kiosk that displays the best times to go grocery shopping the following day. He might see a bar graph that shows that 10 am and 3 pm are the best times to shop. By adjusting his schedule accordingly, that person can avoid crowds and help to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Although this particular project is brand new, Foursquare has been working with LinkNYC for several years. Previous partnerships had the company’s data running on LinkNYC kiosks, giving New Yorkers insights into where the most popular lunch spots, outdoor venues, shops, and nightlife spots were located in relation to those digital kiosks.

“We started conversations with Intersection and LinkNYC in June to see if there was a way we could provide New Yorkers with information they could find useful while living through the new normal of Covid, and we’re excited to see this launch quickly,” says Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare and head of the company’s R&D team, Foursquare Labs.

Data for the project is coming from Foursquare’s panel of 13 million always-on, opted-in users. It’s the same aggregated data that also powers and the Foursquare Recovery Index. In the context of the company’s LinkNYC partnership, Crowley says the data is broken down by zip code and focuses on grocery stores and pharmacies.

“We were also just accredited by the MRC [Media Rating Council] for our location data — the first under MRC’s guidelines — and this collaboration is a great example of how we believe location data should be used: helpful and brings value to users, through data that’s been vetted and verified by trusted industry watchdogs,” Crowley says.

Hyperlocal companies have been using location data and foot traffic data to help brands improve their marketing strategies for years. A number of platforms are already helping businesses pinpoint the best times to push real-time deals and offers to customers in the immediate vicinity during off-peak periods.

But Foursquare’s project is unique. Through its partnership with LinkNYC and Intersection, Foursquare is leveraging the data that brands typically use for personalized marketing and targeting to enhance public safety.

In time, the project may be expanded to other metro areas. Crowley hopes to see the project become even more relevant in local communities.

“I’d like to see us do more ‘data in real time’ or ‘trending this week’ data,” Crowley says. “For example, blending in features of HyperTrending, which we launched as a concept last year, serving real-time awareness of what’s happening in cities that can be shared in public displays like LinkNYC.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.