Google aims to tackle Black Friday crush
Black Friday bargain hunters are being courted by Google, which wants them to try out its latest search facility.
The tech company has made it possible to see how busy shops and other popular destinations are, in real time.
A search for a shop now delivers a status update - such as "a little busy" - and information about how long people typically spend at the location.
Google says it should help users navigate "Black Friday swarms", but one expert questioned its usefulness.
"It could be seen as unwelcome by some retailers because if they are absolutely mobbed, it could put more people off from visiting," said Bryan Roberts, a market researcher at the TCC Global consultancy.
"But in reality, Black Friday is a bit less frenzied in the UK than it has been in the US.
"Last year, there were virtually tumbleweeds blowing round lots of stores on the day.
"So, while it could be useful for some people in the run up to Christmas, I expect [outside the US] it will be a slight irrelevance on Black Friday itself as most of the shopping activity will be online."
Google has offered its Popular Times feature within its Search and Maps tools since July 2015, but until now the tool only presented historical trends about when a venue was busy.
The new live information facility is based on information sent from Google app users, who share their location data with the company.
If Google has not been able to scoop up enough examples, its status update remains limited to saying how busy a place "usually" is.
When the BBC tested the service, it found this was frequently the case for mid-to-small sized UK shops, while larger outlets and shopping centres were more likely to deliver the promised real-time data.
At present, there is no way for businesses to opt out of the service beyond deliberately blocking mobile phone signals.
"If any business has feedback, they can send it to Google via a link on their home page," said a spokeswoman.