When it comes to collecting and analyzing traffic data, Google is king of the road. With Google Maps installed by default on all Android smartphones and many iPhones, the company is able to pluck tons of traffic information from its users as they zip around. The company also owns Waze, another popular free navigation app. Waze not only shares traffic hotspots with Google, but also with fellow users.
Last year, analyzing the data generated by these two apps gave drivers a solid game plan for dodging Thanksgiving traffic. Highlights of this research included the best time to get behind the wheel (Thanksgiving morning), and the worst (the two days before turkey day).
Still, AAA says 1.8 million more Americans will hit the road this year compared to last. All of 2015's driving tips still apply in 2016. But this year, the search giant is adding another (unofficial) U.S. holiday to its dataset: Black Friday. Crunching the numbers across retail-related searches on the company's two apps reveals not only the smartest times to make your shopping run, but the best shops and restaurants to avoid if you want to escape the crowds.
What's the intel? Timing is everything, of course. During last year's Black Friday, Waze saw more people on the roads from midnight to 2 p.m. compared to average November days. That means that if your game plan is to get out after lunch Friday to cross items off your gift lists, you might find the shelves empty.
Strategically mapping out a shopping route may help. Waze also listed the top stores sought out on Black Friday, and while the results may not surprise you, they might encourage you to rethink your route. For instance, Walmart is the top navigation destination for the first day of the holiday shopping season. For clothing stores, cost-conscious chains like Old Navy and T.J. Maxx pack 'em in. Department stores are also popular destinations — be sure to lump Costco in with the Kohl's and Macy's locations as the busiest spots.
Another insight Waze uncovered: Don't be fooled by the legend of the leftover sandwich. As appetizing as turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce piled high in a roll may sound, it's not enough to pull shoppers off the streets. At noontime, more road warriors than usual hit restaurants, with fast food joints like McDonald's, Panera Bread, and Chipotle drawing the lines.
If all that gridlock has convinced you to steer clear of consumerism and to spend time with family instead, Google offers one more bit of advice: Don't go hunting for a Christmas tree. Sure, Black Friday tree hunting will assure you the pick of the patch, but more than outlet mall, electronics store, furniture store, and appliance store, "Christmas tree farm" is the top search term on Google Maps that day. But not all hope is lost, because no one ever asks Google to find their remote control, recliner, and copy of It's a Wonderful Life.