Can a People Counting System Justify Facility Expansion?

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Libraries, schools and universities must deal with numerous challenges when they seek to convert or expand their physical facilities. Those that are fully or partially funded by tax dollars face static or shrinking budgets, which raises the stakes for any decision requiring capital expenditures. Even private institutions need to build a solid case for change, particularly one that will involve cost, time, and inconvenience to students and faculty.

In addition to these very real hurdles, such institutions often suffer from a “data deficit” about how their current facilities are actually used – one that can be filled by a people counting system.

Take public libraries. The growth of e-books, along with libraries’ expanded role as providers of computing/Web connection services, means that traditional metrics (e.g. the number of physical books in circulation) no longer provide a complete picture of patron usage. Universities face similar measurement challenges: students frequently use public spaces in libraries or student centers without ever registering their presence by checking out a book, logging on to a computer, or making any kind of a purchase.

In these cases, a people counting system can show that an expansion is needed by providing accurate, time-stamped data about how many people are entering, exiting, and actually using current facilities and services. And armed with this detailed information about usage and traffic patterns, schools and libraries can plan their facility improvements for maximum benefits.

Data from people counting systems can help pinpoint specific needs, particularly in multi-use areas on campuses and in libraries. Heavy traffic in an area with wired computers, for example, can justify expanding the number of terminals available. Conversely, if traffic (and computer usage) are decreasing over time, patrons may be making greater use of their own smart devices, justifying an expansion of WiFi coverage areas as opposed to purchasing more fixed terminals.

Knowing which buildings on campus receive the most traffic can guide a university as it decides where to spend its money. Making smart decisions in this area is critical as space accounts for 20% of a university’s entire budget. Facilities that are heavily traveled are more likely to provide a strong return on money invested in them, and they are also prime spots for providing information and selling advertising space. In addition, data from people counting systems can identify buildings or areas that are in need of repairs, remodeling or a physical “face lift.”

On a day-to-day basis, people counting systems offer operational guidance. Just as in a retail setting, long lines at a library’s checkout area can indicate the need to allocate more staff there. Data showing which parts of a physical facility are used, and when they are busiest, can help determine optimal schedules and placement of workers. Knowing which times are least busy can provide guidelines for scheduling janitorial services so as to minimize disruption to students and patrons.

Even after a university or library has made a successful case for expanding its facilities, people counting systems are still valuable. By providing pre- and post-expansion traffic information, the organization gets solid data to justify its expenditures. Such proofs will come in handy when the need arises for the next facilities upgrade, whether it’s major or minor.

Five Signs Your Library Needs People Counters

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Library directors and librarians know that people counts are a vital part of keeping a library healthy. Unfortunately, many don’t realize there’s an easier way to do it than with a piece of notebook paper and a pen on the circulation desk. Manual counts are inaccurate, stressful, and taxing. Fortunately, people counters offer a solution that is cost-effective, stress-free, and delivers a solid return on investment.

Are you wondering if a people counter might be right for your library? Check out the five tell-tale signs below.

1. Justifying project funding is a nightmare.

Justifying project funding is always a concern. As a nonprofit, with little to no revenue generation, libraries exist at the mercy of the communities they serve.  Proving that you’re a vital and well-used resource in the community boils down to a numbers game.

  • How many people walk through your doors daily?
  • How many people attend library events?
  • How many people participate in library programs?

All of these questions need to be answered and answered accurately in order to ensure that you receive the funding, not only to survive, but also to flourish and continue providing valuable services to the community.

2. Determining display effectiveness is impossible.

If you’re doing displays “right,” then you’re probably switching them up monthly or quarterly. However, without people counters, there’s virtually no way of determining the effectiveness of each display. With people counters positioned in zones that harbor different displays, you can monitor traffic trends overtime— and with each change of display— to see which display generated the most interest in library patrons.

3. You’re stuck in the dark ages of manual counting in order to produce numbers for your annual report.

Do your clerks, pages, and other librarians dread your annual summer reading program because they’re required to watch the door and make a tally for every patron that attends a specific summer reading event—in addition to other daily tasks at the circulation desk and among the stacks?  Manual counting is a hassle in a myriad of ways. The least of which is that it stresses out staff and disrupts work flow.

The bottom line is that manual counts are inaccurate. Staff members manning the circ desk can get caught in a rush of tending to a line of patrons. During slow periods, staff members may attend to tasks that need to be completed in the back office, or step away from the circulation desk to shelve returns. In both circumstances, staff can potentially miss important counts. Those counts can make the difference in the type of funding your library receives the following year.

People counters placed in entrances or separate library “zones” (i.e. reading room, nonfiction, fiction, children’s room, etc.) will gather accurate counts and relieve library staff of the tally-mark responsibility. Thus, freeing up their work day and ensuring that the counts included in your annual report are as accurate as possible.

4. Your circulation desk is frequently over or under staffed.

Do you find that you don’t have enough staff manning the circulation desk during busy times of the day? Alternately, do you find that during slow periods, your circulation desk is overstaffed with clerks and pages that don’t have anything to fill their time?

The optimization of labor is just as critical in a library environment as it is in retail environments. Funding is often sparse and optimizing library labor is a great way to reduce costs. People counters will allow you to pull reports and analyze traffic trends overtime. With determined traffic trends, you will be able to identify your busy and slow periods and schedule staff accordingly.

5. Facility maintenance is poor.

Does your circulation staff frequently have to perform tasks such as cleaning bathrooms, taking out the garbage, and vacuuming floors? This is a good indicator that your facility maintenance staff may need to be paid to come in a bit more frequently. However, justifying this without a people counters in place is nearly impossible. People counters will provide you with the hard numbers you need when you approach the library board to request more maintenance staff hours.

If your library is exhibiting all or one of these symptoms, people counters are the remedy you need. For assistance in choosing the right people counter for your library, read our FREE eBook, “Which People Counter is Right for You?”

 

How People Counting Data is Used to Increase Sales Conversion Rates

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The process of converting shoppers into buyers is practically the definition of a “business basic.” For retailers, measuring (and hopefully increasing) their sales conversion rates is dependent on access to consistent, reliable store people counting data.

Basic people counting solutions, such as those installed only at a store’s entrances, can provide the raw numbers for calculating a store’s overall conversion rate. It’s simply the percentage of shoppers in the store who actually purchase an item at the point-of-sale. But to truly understand what moves the lever for sales conversions, more detailed people counting data – generated by overhead people counters as well as those placed in key locations throughout the store – is required.

Creating effective promotions and displays, and placing them in optimal locations within your store, is a proven technique for improving conversion. People counting data can help these efforts in two ways. One is by mapping how customers currently shop your store. Knowing where the high- and low-traffic areas are, is essential to placing promotions so that they generate maximum impact.

Retailers can use A/B testing to compare factors such as display design and placement. (A/B testing is simply an experiment with two variables, “A” and “B”.) In a store setting, a retailer might test Display Style A for three days, then test Display Style B for three days. Comparisons of people counting data and sales will reveal which display attracts customers and, more importantly, results in purchases. Because it’s important to control for any outside factors that could affect an A/B test’s outcome, each test period should cover the same three days of the week (e.g. two successive Friday-to-Sunday periods).

People counting data can also boost sales conversions by pinpointing customer service issues. If a store’s foot traffic is heavy but sales are slipping, the problem might be that not enough associates are on hand to help customers find the items they need at peak times. Or shoppers may be finding the items they seek, but leaving in frustration without completing their purchases because they can’t find a manned POS station.

Diagnosing and remedying these customer service situations is critical to maintaining solid conversion rates. People counting data that charts peak times of day and days of the week, as well as year-over-year historical data that records the impact of holidays and special events, provides retailers with invaluable insights about how many (and what kind) of associates to schedule. With this information, retailers can maximize conversions while still keeping a tight rein on labor costs.

Improved understanding of when customers visit a store can also help retailers time their promotions more precisely. If certain holidays bring people into a store, use this as an opportunity to promote items you want to expose to a larger audience. If store crowds swell at lunch time, after work, or on the weekends, plan time-limited promotions that take advantage of each store’s customer traffic profile.

Finally, continue to use people counting data to measure conversion rates’ swells and dips over time. Keeping close tabs on this vital sign is imperative to the health of any retail establishment.

Four Truths Revealed with Timely Traffic Data

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For retailers, restaurants, and other establishments that rely on customer traffic to survive, measuring the health of the business on a day-by-day (even an hour-by-hour) basis is critical. Reports from the point-of-sale (POS) paint part of the picture, but they need to be combined with timely traffic data to reveal four key truths:

1) High and low traffic periods

2) Labor management efficiency (or lack thereof)

3) True sales conversion rates

4) True success of promotions, displays, and exhibits

High and low traffic periods: Sales reports and periodic counts made by employees provide a general sense of what times of day/days of the week are busiest, but they are imprecise measurement tools at best. Traffic counting solutions capable of gathering timely traffic data – including how many people come into a store or restaurant, when they enter and exit, which entrances they use, and how they move throughout the location – establishes a data baseline for several key performance metrics. In addition, consistent measurement over time reveals the customer traffic impact of outside conditions such as weather, construction in the area, or nearby sporting or entertainment events.

Labor Management Efficiency: Because personnel costs are typically one of the largest budget items for a retailer or restaurant, it’s beneficial to the bottom line to have the optimal number of employees working at any given time. However, this can be a delicate balancing act: retailers, for example, want enough associates on the floor and at the POS to facilitate sales and keep checkout lines moving, but not so many that employees don’t have enough work to keep them busy. In larger multi-department stores, retailers need to have enough associates working in product areas requiring heavy sales assistance (e.g. jewelry and cosmetics) versus those where customers will only occasionally need assistance (e.g. apparel, groceries, home repair items). Using timely traffic data to chart when a store or restaurant is busiest, and deploying employees accordingly, ensures there will be sufficient staff on hand during busy times without wasting valuable resources at non-peak times.

True Sales Conversion Rates: Customer traffic is all well and good, but sales are literally what make the cash registers ring. Timely traffic data is critical to understanding how many people are actually buying items versus simply browsing. With true conversion rate data, businesses can explain sales spikes and slumps. If sales are down, the conversion rate can show whether it’s because foot traffic has slowed, but if traffic hasn’t dropped, the conversion rate will show that high traffic is no longer leading to high sales.

Promotion/Display Effectiveness: Promotional advertising can be costly, so it’s beneficial to know what is actually drawing customers in. Integrating a people counting system with the POS to track sales of a promoted product or service during a specific period can reveal which vehicles and messages are most effective. If timely traffic data indicates a spike in customer visits without a corresponding rise in sales of a promoted item, it’s a strong indication that the promotion needs to be rethought.

Gathering timely traffic data provides the cornerstone for critical performance measurements, including true sales conversion rates, in retail, restaurant, and hospitality locations. This data provides the means to consistently check up on labor efficiency and scheduling as well as the effectiveness of promotional tools both inside and outside the store.

Four Steps for Optimizing Your People Counting Data

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Today’s people counting technologies are capable of gathering a wide range of detailed data, offering significant insights into key business metrics that include conversion rates, promotion effectiveness, and staffing levels. By its nature, this people counting information isn’t static: it changes with each passing minute, hour, and day. Likewise, getting the most from this wealth of people counting data should be an ongoing effort, designed to increase the value of your insights over time.

Optimizing your people counting data involves four basic steps:
1) Measure trends over time
2) Analyze data and draw conclusions
3) Create solutions to respond to issues/improve operations
4) Measure results of your efforts and begin again

Determining which trends to measure will depend on the nature of your operation, the size and layout of your building, and your key business goals. Following are some business intelligence metrics that can be effectively measured with people counting technologies:

● Visit Timeframes: With data provided to you by people counting systems, you’ll be able to determine with ease which periods are your busiest and which are your slowest. Business owners will be able to utilize this information to leverage better business decisions, such as scheduling staff and improving facility management. When labor management is optimized, customer or visitor satisfaction with the service received increases. Customer service is critical for ensuring that your sales conversion rates increase. People counting data will reveal truths about your business or establishment that you may not have noticed otherwise. The trends revealed will also assist business owners in determining what measures need to be taken in order to prosper.

Business owners can analyze their people counting data to measure the impact of location-based factors that include environmental changes (e.g. construction projects) and new competitors. They can also use inside/outside traffic comparisons to measure attraction factors in order to:
● Compare the pull of different looks, themes, and stores in a mall or museum
● Evaluate the success of visual marketing and renovations
● Appraise the effect of changes in tenants, exhibitions, or displays
● Confirm the success of promotions and other merchandising activities
● Get a snapshot of activity on a store-by-store or a zone-by-zone basis.

Retailers and other businesses can use these people counting data insights to create solutions to problems and to take advantage of opportunities. They can adjust their promotional spending, re-allocate staffing to have enough people in the store at peak times, address customer service issues with improved training and management oversight, or test the impact of different display types both inside and outside the store.

By carefully measuring the impact of these changes, then testing (and re-testing) to ensure the results are valid, retailers and other business owners can address their biggest challenges, increase their sales and improve their operational efficiency. Then when a new baseline is established, they can use the insights generated by people counting data to start the process all over again. People counting data allows for the opportunity to continually improve. Through the ongoing process of tracking of trends, evaluating of data, creating solutions, and gauging outcomes, a business or establishment will continue to grow.