Density: telling us how long the coffee line is

When I read about Density on Product Hunt my curiosity was piqued: isn’t it time to have something like Google’s traffic indicators in other settings? It seems (and I say “seems” because Density is yet another iOs only app) that Density does this by installing sensors on door frames at participating merchants and using that data to notify interested customers when a place is calmer.

I like the principle of Density for several reasons:

The amazing pies at Tilt, in Portland, where the line was almost out the door.

The amazing pies at Tilt, in Portland, where the line was almost out the door.

  • It’s all opt-in and, unlike other traffic trackers, has no creepiness factor. Density isn’t tracking cell phones like Google does for live traffic on Maps, but rather via sensors that merchants install that anonymously track foot traffic. There’s no personal tracking, not even in aggregate.
  • Many commenters on Product Hunt thought that merchants would be wary of Density because it would turn customers away. Founder Andrew Farah denies that this is the case. “Merchants have pretty crazy peaks and valleys; super busy for an hour then really quiet. They’ve told us they’d prefer a more even distribution throughout the day.”
  • Similar to the way heavy road traffic will motivate drivers to take alternative routes, knowing what traffic looks like at a certain moment can motivate a change in behavior by shifting visits to less busy times.
  • Lets merchants know the traffic patterns at their stores beyond a vague “morning rush” or “afternoon snack” timing. Though I think that this is data that can be gleaned from their POS units (after all, customers’ transactions are recorded) but perhaps these indications aren’t in real time and cannot be acted upon. On Product Hunt Mr Farah remarked that one cafe was looking to know when the store was busy, not calm, so that they could send out more waitstaff. Knowing actual foot traffic patterns can help merchants adapt to their customers’ preference. Is there already a line out the door at opening time? Open earlier. A lull every day at 4pm? Plan a happy hour treat to get customers in store before the evening rush.
  • I’m not sure if Density already does this but beyond pinging users when a line is short it could provide a map of busy/calm cycles based on historical data. It’s not absolutely necessary to get a live report but just knowing a line at my favorite bakery is not out the door (Tartine, I’m looking at you) at around 3pm will prompt me to plan my day accordingly.
  • For merchants with multiple branches, especially those in close proximity, knowing traffic can help even out lines at each location. Imagine if  Starbucks offered this service in downtown San Francisco, where there is a branch almost on every block. Wouldn’t you walk a block to stand in a much shorter line?
  • Malls can use Density like multi-branch companies to divert traffic to less busier stores during busy shopping seasons such as the weeks leading up to Christmas.
  • Solve the holiday problem that Google Maps, Yelp and many other location apps have. Last Christmas we were driving around Portland looking for an open restaurant. Both Google Maps and Yelp listed many places open that weren’t.
  • The easy setup (from what I can tell) helps merchants. I’ve heard from small businesses that just don’t have time to update social media or even their website, and Density seems to be a much easier solution.
  • Other places aside from cafes, bars and restaurants can benefit from Density. One commenter on Product Hunt mentioned the DMV but also banks and the Post Office would benefit.

Anyway, I’ll wait for the Android version and see if Density changes my habits.

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