Why footfall is the new ‘must have’ dataset

Why footfall is the new ‘must have’ dataset

Home » Why footfall is the new ‘must have’ dataset

Long before it became a government requirement to limit the number of customers in a single environment, retailers have been experimenting with the best and most effective ways to understand their footfall data.

Technology that counts people and tracks where in a store those people are is becoming invaluable in informing, and transforming, business decisions. Footfall management technology gives an optimum picture of footfall, customer behaviours and customer flow, improving the performance of stores and as a consequence, retail conversion rates.

Post By Thomas Fletcher -
Projects Director

As well as keeping a record of those entering and exiting a store, technology can now provide retailers with comprehensive and connected systems that monitor customers as they move, generating heat maps for specific time periods and even dwell time in specific areas.

How counting people works

Footfall tracking typically starts at the entrance and exit of a store, with count data collected by a piece of kit called a people counter.  This type of tech works by detecting when a person crosses an invisible count line that has been configured into the settings.

How the counting device detects a person depends on the specific technology implemented.  Traditionally this would have been a form of CCTV but more recent innovations in the sector mean things like thermal imaging and body scanning can all provide a richness of data about customer journeys and behaviours.

Some systems are also able to proactively exclude the movement of retail staff through wearable technology, giving an even more accurate reflection of store footfall.  In some sectors, particularly luxury retail such as jewellers, high-end fashion boutiques and luxury car showrooms, where the ratio of staff to customers is typically high, this can be critical to understanding true customer journeys.

Once collected, real-time data is fed through to a platform for analysis and interpretation, often with a suite of management reporting functionality available.

Types of tech

Thermal people counter: Around the size of a small smoke alarm in appearance, a thermal people counter is typically fixed to the ceiling above the area to me measured.  It’s a highly accurate method; thermal imaging technology records temperature changes of individuals compared to the environment, even in complete darkness.  Customer body heat is detected by heat-sensing cameras, producing reliable data even in crowded areas.  Multiple cameras can be connected as a single system ensuring that data for complex or large areas can still be captured.
Stereo people counter: These small devices are designed to be fixed on the ceiling above the area to be measured, with two tiltable cameras to track movement.  Stereo counters collect entry and exit data in real time, providing insight to customer volumes that is adaptable to a range of environments.  This kind of tech can interpret depth in a field or view, meaning objects such as pushchairs can be excluded or height-based criteria applied to omit children.  There have been advances in stereo technology meaning this can also be applied to capture dwell time within a defined zone as well as the ability to follow the flow of an entire customer journey.  Multiple cameras can be connected as a single system ensuring that data for complex or large areas can still be captured.
Time of Flight (ToF) people counter: Also designed to be fixed to a ceiling above the area to be measured, this style of counter sends a signal to the objects beneath it and records the reflection of infared which bounces back to the sensor.  This means a greater depth of vision and movement can be recorded, including the potential to measure shelf-level activity.  These counters can operate in blackout conditions and can be connected as a multi-device system to ensure large or complex areas are covered.
Wireless wi-fi people counter: Typically suited to smaller, low footfall environments, wi-fi operates from wireless access points (WAPs) which vary in size.  They are designed to be placed in the vicinity of the area to be measured, however the range and accuracy is variable and often subject to complex set-up and calibration.

CCTV people counter: This system is often integrated into existing in-store security tech; as a software-based bolt-on it is a low-cost solution to basic footfall management.  However, because the camera’s primary focus in security, the output and accuracy are not always reliable and can be impacted negatively by lighting issues.

It’s also worth acknowledging both mono and infared people counters, however the technology and innovation has developed in such a way that renders this type of counter highly unreliable in a modern retail environment.

Adapting to a post-Covid landscape

The global health crisis has added a new lens to the need to track footfall with government guidance changing the rulebook to keep customers and employees safe.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to limit the number of people in a space to adhere to strict Covid-safe requirements including social distancing and limiting crowds.

Shopping centre giant Intu recently announced that it is adapting its footfall-monitoring technology to enable it accurately monitor and control the number of people entering its shopping centres in England.  The aim is to make its frontline teams aware of when maximum capacity in the centres are reached, in line with government guidance on social distancing. Once capacity is reached, queues will then be managed outside.  It’s likely many more will follow suit.

In an extension of the thinking, footfall management is also critical to the urban spaces in which many retailers are located.  The way people use public spaces has come under close scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic. Crowd simulation technology has become a vital tool as engineers and clients ensure that public infrastructure is aligned with Covid-safe planning.

Simulation tools allow engineers to create 3D models, test myriad designs and undertake advanced analysis of crowd flow.  Just like retail, every urban environment is unique and the needs of the people using the space can differ.  A better understanding of footfall and individual journeys is critical to planning urban spaces that work for not just today but the future as well.  It’s technology that is likely to iterate and evolve for the retail sector as the next stage of footfall management.

Through understanding more about footfall and customer journeys, retailers can implement targeted changes to meet the needs of their core demographics.  As organisations strive to bring their online and offline presence closer together, using enhanced footfall data enables a closer analysis of consumer behaviours in-store versus online. It also allows retailers to adopt a test and learn approach to their physical environments, as they do with their online stores, based on data and real-time analysis.

As the technology improves and gives an even greater degree of reliability and coverage, the opportunities are there to create even more customer-centric environments.  From driving strategic store decisions to more tactical sales initiatives, as well as maintaining compliance with government-driven Covid-related guidance, richer and deeper footfall data is more than the latest passing trend; it’s the new must-have.

Sigma, your technology partner

At Sigma, we stay at the forefront of the latest technology innovations in retail to ensure we can bring the right solution to meet your data-driven needs.  We can offer full-project management support to deliver an outcome-focused solution; our design and planning experts will work with you to find the perfect tech based on your requirements whilst our M&E, construction & installation teams can work alongside any specialist expertise needed to ensure your solution is expertly installed to deliver the benefits you need.

Whether you’re considering an entirely new approach to footfall management or enhancing an existing set-up, we have the knowledge and expertise to help you improve the performance of your store portfolio.


Data is King

Footfall data can provide significant advantages. Get in touch to see how you can use technology to improve customer engagement significantly

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