How People Counting Fits into the Future of Retail Analytics

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bigstock-Closeup-image-of-businessman-d-46432180 (small)Retail analytics technologies, already a considerable focus of industry interest, are primed for a significant “growth spurt” during the next few years. Looking across 10 major retail sectors, ABI Research has projected that this market will grow to over $3 billion by 2018.

Much of this growth will come from existing technologies, such as people counting and queue management, being augmented with smartphone-based technologies. These will synchronize with existing systems to enable higher levels of analytics, including pathing, dwell times, repeat customers, and aisle-level product interaction. This combination will be essential “for retailers looking to develop shopper marketing strategies, stave off online retail/showrooming, and maximize brick-and-mortar revenue,” noted ABI Senior Analyst Patrick Connolly in a September 2013 report.

What’s behind the interest in people counting? In recent years, much of the attention in retail analytics has been focused on digital channels – in large part because the nature of e-commerce makes available granular, customer-specific data around browsing patterns, promotion responses and conversion triggers.

However, the vast majority of transactions still take place in brick-and-mortar stores, and forward-thinking retailers see the opportunity to garner the same level of insight in the physical world as they can with online and mobile shopping. People counting technologies, when teamed with smartphone-based tools and emerging technologies such as geofencing and strategically placed beacons, can paint ever-clearer pictures of shoppers’ in-store activities and their literal paths to purchase. These technologies have the potential to provide “side-course” benefits to people counting’s “main course.”

It’s essential to keep in mind that these emerging technologies are still in development. While technology is advancing, not all customers have phones compatible with these “side-course” methods. Data provided through the integration of smart devices with people counting systems is still limited.

People counting technologies provide valuable data in regards to determining traffic flow, identifying traffic trends over time, optimizing labor, enabling more effective facility management, and determining conversion rates. Understanding traffic flow allows for cost effective and efficient labor scheduling. For example, lunch time and holidays tend to be peak traffic periods for many businesses. However, all businesses are unique in the audience that they serve, so while some peak times may overlap, others may not. People counters are vital to accurately determining these periods.

Identifying peak traffic times is also essential to understanding the success of promotions and sales. This is possible by comparing how many people have walked through an establishment, within the retailer’s chosen time period, to how many of those people made purchases. In this way, retailers will be able to accurately determine how successful a promotion was, as well as sale conversion rates.

Retailers’ return on investment for people counting technology becomes evident very quickly. People counting technology makes the guesswork that accompanies identifying traffic trends, sales conversion rates and optimizing labor into an efficient and accurate process. The analytics that people counting technologies provide are critical for businesses to successfully compete in our rapidly evolving world. The ongoing discovery of these and other uses for people counting systems will continue to fuel the overall growth of this sector.

How People Counters Can Help Retailers Manage Holiday Shoppers

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bigstock-Gift-Boxes--6461216(small)Retailers are keenly aware of the importance of the holiday season to their bottom lines. After all, “Black Friday” got its name because it was traditionally the day merchants moved into the black (i.e. profitability) as holiday shopping gained momentum. The old maxim is still accurate: holiday season sales accounted for nearly one-fifth (19.2%) of retailers’ total for all of last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

A number of trends are converging to make holiday 2014 particularly critical for brick-and-mortar retailers, highlighting the value that people counting systems can bring during this vital selling season:

● Starting with some good news, a strengthening economy has raised the NRF’s projection for total holiday spending to $616.9 billion, which would represent a 4.1% increase over 2013. If the association’s predictions are borne out, this would be the first year since 2011 when the year-over-year increase topped 4%.

● Data suggests consumers will make fewer total visits to brick-and-mortar stores than in previous years, but are likely to spend more during each visit. Retailers will need to maximize the opportunity that each store visit represents.

● The calendar taketh away (Thanksgiving is late in the month of November, falling on the 27th) but it also giveth: Christmas falls on a Thursday, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the week apart from the weekend.

People counters’ ability to calculate how many people enter the store at any given time as well as their traffic patterns and locations makes them vital tools during this season. Among other benefits, this data helps retailers optimize their labor scheduling and management, identifying their busiest departments and the peak times when checkout lanes need to be staffed in order to avoid long lines and frustrated customers.

Knowledge about when traffic peaks in various parts of the store also helps managers schedule optimal times for restocking shelves and deploying cleaning and maintenance crews, keeping aisles as clear as possible for shoppers.

Data from people counters can also guide retailers in placing promotional displays and items, which should be located in high-traffic areas to maximize their impact. Highly desirable items that customers will seek out on their own (e.g. this year’s “hot” toy) should be placed far from the store’s entrance, encouraging customers to purchase other products that they see on their way.

Given the unique nature of the holiday season, people counters also provide retailers with insights into their stores’ ability to handle their maximum number of shoppers, as well as suggesting ways to improve store layouts. For example, wide aisles encourage customers to power-walk through them to an intended destination, while narrow aisles encourage customer browsing, potentially increasing impulse purchases. However, if aisles are too narrow they can become clogged, creating an unpleasant shopping experience and encouraging customers to leave the store.

If this is the first year a retailer deploys people counters, the information they provide can establish a useful baseline for future holiday seasons. Merchants will have solid data about precisely when they will need to add staff to deal with the holiday rush, and will also be able to predict how long after the holidays the inevitable returns and exchanges will keep their stores crowded with customers. Most important, people counters provide day-by-day (even hour-by-hour) insights that can be vital to making every holiday shopper’s visit productive for them – and profitable for the retailer.

New Year’s Resolution: Make Better Informed Business Decisions with Traffic Data

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Goals 2015As the New Year draws closer, people begin to think about goals to set for the up and coming year. Have you begun to think about the New Year’s resolution for your business? If you haven’t, it’s time to get started. We’ll even give you a hand.

If you haven’t already, gain the competitive advantage that collecting traffic data provides. Boost profits, efficiency, and productivity in 2015 with people counting technologies. Traffic data provides significant insight and valuable information regarding traffic trends, sales conversion rates, and promotion success.

1. Identify Foot Traffic Patterns
Installing people counters at your entrances, and even in the separate areas of your facility, will provide you with traffic data that will reveal your store’s most popular entrances and areas. This data is extremely beneficial in regards to determining the success of your store layout. For example, do you know if traffic flows evenly through your establishment? Do you have your most popular entrances appropriately staffed to accommodate the heavy traffic flow?
Identifying foot traffic patterns will allow you to find answers to critical questions such as these. Traffic data will help you better understand your retail store traffic and that understanding can be used to improve your sale conversion rate.

2. Manage and Schedule Employees Based on Traffic Data
People counters will provide you with traffic data that, when tracked over a period of time, will identify useful trends in regards to your highest traffic times and your lowest traffic times. Identifying your high and low traffic times is useful when managing and scheduling employees.
Optimizing the service that your business provides to its customers is essential. Traffic counting data is critical to ensuring that you are appropriately managing and scheduling your employees. Identifying your peak traffic times, will allow you to anticipate when you will need to ensure that you have a few extra staff members manning the checkout terminals and on the sales floor to provide assistance. Conversely, identifying your low traffic times will allow you to cost effectively staff your establishment and save money.

3. Accurately Calculate Your Sale Conversion Rate
Calculating your sales conversion rate is mostly just complicated guesswork unless you have people counting technology installed. With traffic data, you can compare how many sales you’ve made in a given time period to how many people walked through your store within that same time period. In this way, you’ll be able to easily and accurately determine your average conversion ratio per year, month, week, day and even hour.

4. Determine the Success of Your Promotions
Without traffic data, the success of your promotions can be a bit unclear. Traffic data will reveal accurate outcomes for each of your promotions. Similar to determining your sale conversion ratio, you can compare how many people have walked through your doors to how many have made a promotional purchase. You can take this information a step further and determine why your promotions were successful or unsuccessful and use that knowledge to create more successful promotions in the future.

Ultimately, you will save money, increase profits, improve your conversion rate, and determine the ROI of your promotions with traffic data. This coming year, craft better business decisions by implementing a people counting solution in your establishment and utilizing the traffic data it provides.

How to Choose a People Counting System Provider

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One of the most difficult factors in any technology purchase decision is selecting the right provider. Often, the choice is not clear-cut – particularly when different vendors offer products with similar features and within similar price ranges. In all cases, it’s critical to choose a people counting system provider that will do more than simply sell you a product and provide scheduled maintenance. Seek out vendors with the size, infrastructure, and personnel capable of meeting your people counting needs not just today, but throughout the technology’s lifecycle.

Here are six tips for selecting a people counting system provider that will best fit your company’s current and ongoing needs:

1. Communicate a Clear Idea of What You Need: Spell out exactly what you’re looking for in a people counting system, ideally separated into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” categories. But be open to vendors’ suggestions about new or under-used technologies that may solve your business challenges or provide a competitive edge.

2. Ensure the Provider Has the Resources to Support Their Products: Is your potential people counting system provider a large enough company to offer a full range of people counting products, along with maintenance, installation, and technical support that will be there when you need it? Is the company financially stable? While length of operation is not always a guarantee of a good provider, if a company has stayed in business for a number of years it’s generally indicative of an ability to provide good service and adapt to changing conditions. In addition, a large, well-staffed company is more likely to be able to scale up as your needs change and expand.

3. Make Sure the Provider has Experience within Your Industry: Today’s people counting system technologies are rarely a one-size-fits-all. You’ll save a lot of time if you don’t have to educate a vendor on the basics of your industry – time that can be spent crafting a solution that will precisely fit your company’s requirements.

4. Find Out What Other Customers’ Experience Has Been Like: Ask for references within your industry, and ask these customers specific questions: How long have they been a client? How has the provider addressed their specific needs? Is the customer service team knowledgeable and responsive? Don’t limit your research to provided references: use the Web to seek out user reviews and third-party ratings, both positive and negative.

5. Make Sure the People Counting System Integrates Easily with your Current Systems: The time to research potential integration headaches is before you sign a contract, not afterwards. Ask the vendor’s representatives specific questions about how they will solve installation and integration issues. As you narrow down the contenders, make contact not just with the provider’s sales reps but also with the technical and customer service personnel who will actually be addressing these issues. If it’s practical, bring them on-site, so they can see your operation first-hand, and you can gauge their industry knowledge and expertise in person.

6. Review the Vendor’s Training Program: IT professionals know that installing technology can be less of a challenge than bringing internal users up to speed on it. Even if training isn’t included in your purchase, review the materials the vendor provides and take a segment of a training course (in-person or online) to get a taste of how your deployment and implementation will actually work.

Choosing the people counting system vendor that’s right for your company means doing your homework – knowing precisely what you need (and want), and asking the tough questions. It’s also important to select a provider that you and your people will feel comfortable working with, because if you choose well, it will be a long-term relationship.

Is a People Counter Right for My Business?

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As e-commerce continues to take ever-larger shares of the consumer “wallet,” brick-and-mortar retailers are sharpening their focus on the in-store experience. To make the most of their investment in physical locations, retailers are seeking ways to maximize the return on each customer’s visit. However, boosting this type of ROI requires accurately measuring when, and how, customers currently shop their stores, so they can establish a baseline for what works and what doesn’t. This need is raising the profile of people counting technology, an increasingly valuable tool for retailers seeking to:

● Test promotions and marketing strategies

● Improve store layouts

● Map and adjust customer people patterns to boost awareness and conversion rates

● Ensure staffing levels are appropriate, and determine whether staff is being deployed where associates can most effectively improve customer service and increase conversion

If you determine that people counters can help maximize your brick-and-mortar investment, the type of technology you choose will depend on the size and complexity of your store environments. Horizontal people counters are the least expensive but are less accurate than other solutions, and they are only recommended for store entrances that are at least 15 feet wide. Directional people counters can report how many people have entered a store; those equipped with bi-directional sensors provide hourly customer counts that help retailers gauge customer intentions. If these directional people counting sensors are placed throughout the store, they can indicate not only what days and times are the busiest but also what shoppers’ habits are as they traverse the store.

The most accurate type of people counters use overhead sensors installed in the store’s ceiling. These solutions can cover a larger area than counters placed at doors, and there’s virtually no risk of anyone being blocked from the sensor’s view.

The more sensitive the people counter, the easier it is for a retailer to determine a shopper’s intentions – whether they are simply browsing or if they have a predetermined goal in mind. People counters can also be used to measure conversion, i.e. did the shopping trip result in an actual purchase?

Because people counters provide an unbiased, scientific view of actual customer people, they can support strategic decisions around store layouts, product placements, and promotional strategies. Determining which areas have the highest people will also help retailers determine how many sales associates should be made available to assist customers, at what times and in what departments.

Promotions will be most successful in high-people areas where they will be exposed to the maximum number of customers. Retailers should consider placing their high-profit items in busy areas, while locating high-demand items in low-people areas such as the rear of the store. This will help draw customers all the way through the store, exposing them to more products for potential purchase.

People counters can also help retailers determine whether the store layout is helping or hindering sales. For example, wide aisles encourage customers to power-walk through them to an intended destination, while narrow aisles encourage customer browsing, potentially increasing impulse purchases. However, if aisles are too narrow they can become clogged, creating an unpleasant shopping experience and encouraging customers to leave the store. Narrow aisles can also make it difficult for people counting sensors to accurately measure customer volumes.

Careful analysis of the data from people counting solutions can provide retailers with valuable insights about finding not only an optimum aisle width, but also helping to determine the best product placements, promotional tactics, and staffing strategies to fit the retailer’s physical locations and overall business strategy.