The 2020 holiday shopping season is here, and it’s unlike any other. Mindful preparation is essential for the health and safety of your employees and customers. This year has prompted many shoppers to consider what matters to them, opting for smaller, intimate gatherings and sentimental gifts over exorbitant purchases. They are eager to shop at establishments with similar values. One holiday shopping survey shows 57% of consumers feel more inspired to shop with a business that has supported staff and customers during the COVID-19 crisis. The same study reports that more than 60% of consumers plan to minimize in-store shopping, citing their concern for retail workers as a leading cause.
Though in-store crowds will likely be smaller and more staggered, there are steps you can take to optimize the shopping experience in a way that encourages social distancing and safe practices while still promoting your products. Here are six steps for safer holiday shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Following all recommended and required health and safety guidelines are the most essential step your business can take this holiday season. To make it easier, consider selecting a COVID-19 officer who can identify critical areas and facilitate changes. Your COVID-19 officer will also be in charge of communicating all relevant workplace adjustments to employees. Work with store management across departments to examine existing employee policies regarding sick time and compensation and see what flexibility you can introduce to encourage a “health first” attitude.
Establish a list of health and safety standards your store aims to uphold for customers and employees. Examples include:
Use a people counting system: One of the best ways to minimize contact between employees and customers is to set a limit for the number of shoppers allowed inside the store at a given time. Be sure to display this number clearly on the outside of the store, so shoppers know there may be a wait. Monitor store capacity with an electronic overhead people counting system. Controlling the number of customers your employees work with also ensures those customers receive attentive service.
Assess existing conditions: Analyze your existing conditions within the store. How far are aisles spaced? Which departments do you anticipate receiving the most foot traffic during holiday shopping? Consider whether you can eliminate any tasks or rearrange any areas of the store to minimize customer contact and optimize flow. This is also a good time to create a set of mask and distancing guidelines for employees and shoppers to follow. Pay special attention to medium-risk employees, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists as those operating at the point of sale (POS) or dealing directly with consumers.
Encourage social distancing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet. In your store, this might mean using signage to discourage queueing in check-out lanes and aisles and floor stickers to direct traffic. If possible, encourage self-checkout to promote safer distances. Consider setting up outdoor retail spots for open-air shopping. Make sure all shelves stay stocked throughout the day, so customers can shop for items without employee interaction unless necessary.
Add physical barriers where possible: Many stores have installed see-through plexiglass barriers and partitions to separate check-out employees at the POS and customers in line. You could utilize similar devices at information counters and return desks.
Have a disinfection strategy: Create a disinfection strategy for employees, customers, and equipment. This might include more frequent breaks for employees to wash their hands, installing sanitizing or handwashing stations throughout the store for employee and customer use, and regular disinfection on surfaces such as counters, shelves, doors, handles, shopping carts, cash registers, card scanners, writing utensils and handrails.
Once your health and safety protocols are in place, stay vigilant about changing conditions in your local community. Adjust your plans as needed. Be aware of spikes in COVID-19 cases, and take steps to ensure sick staff stays at home.
2. Adjust Business Hours
In addition to monitoring how many shoppers enter the store, you can also adjust your business hours to suit your specific needs. Some stores have extended shopping hours to discourage large crowds and allow holiday shoppers more time to browse without congregating. Other stores have found better success shortening business hours to minimize the amount of exposure their employees undergo throughout a shift. You also have an option to designate specific shopping hours for vulnerable populations. If you operate a small store or live in a high-risk area, consider allowing customers to schedule shopping appointments. This is a great way to keep in-store contact low while still fostering valuable customer relationships.
3. Expand or Include Curbside Pick-Up
If you don’t currently offer customers an option to pick-up their orders outside the store, there is no better time to start. In 2020, half of the consumers plan to use curbside or contactless pick-up for holiday shopping more than they did in 2019. Nearly 80% of shoppers say the option for contactless pick-up is important. Curbside pick-up is a good way to entice holiday shoppers who are high-risk or uncomfortable with in-store shopping to continue purchasing with you.
Ensure successful curbside pick-up with these steps:
Let customers know via advertising that they can shop and place orders online, over the phone, or via social media — whichever combination of methods works best for you.
Designate a pick-up area outside the store. The location should be close enough for employees to comfortably carry a customer’s order to them.
Create a curbside plan and create a pick-up crew to oversee order management and fulfillment.
Rearrange or block off parking near the store to accommodate your new arrangements.
4. Optimize Window Shopping
Another method that promotes safe shopping is optimized window shopping. In the past, window shopping simply meant browsing items for sale without much intent to purchase. In the era of COVID-19, it’s an innovative way to attract customers while maintaining safety protocols. Stores with optimized window shopping have rearranged displays, so passersby can see items from outdoors and scan QR codes if they’re interested in buying.
Here are some tips for optimizing your store for window shopping:
When selecting items for display, opt for your bestsellers or top holiday discounts.
Integrate signage in your display to guide customers through the new selection and check-out process.
Use window shopping as an opportunity to create new item bundles or conduct live demonstrations of products.
Create an outdoor distancing plan with ground markers and physical barriers.
5. Promote Online Shopping and Virtual Experiences
One of the most significant COVID-19 holiday shopper trends in 2020 will be the amount of online-only browsing and shopping. According to a Nielsen survey, there has been a 61% increase in e-commerce shopping trips since the pandemic began. Make sure your online shopping platform is up and running. If you own a small store or have no e-commerce options available, consider utilizing your social media channels to list top-selling items and holiday promotions. Then, encourage customers to call the store and place an order for contactless pick-up or local delivery.
While many shoppers might be missing the Christmas shopping experience — holiday music overhead and colorful decorations all around — many stores are creating memorable virtual experiences to entice shoppers this year. Retailers like Sam’s Club and Macy’s have implemented VR shopping experiences to help consumers feel like they’re getting the holiday treatment. Leverage your online platform to create virtual content to connect you with consumers, like behind-the-scenes videos, a “history of” series about your business, how-to guides for bestselling items or holiday tutorials featuring your products.
6. Communicate Changes With Customers
As you make adjustments for the upcoming shopping season, communicate all relevant changes to customers to minimize confusion and frustration. Let them know early and often about policy changes, mask requirements, social distancing guidelines and online offerings.
Use as many of the following advertising methods as you can:
Your social media channels
Banners on your website
Your mailing list or newsletter
While communicating with customers, practice patience and understanding. Let them know you’ve made changes in the best interest of your staff and to keep shoppers like them safe. Use optimism, hope and humor to remain authentic and remind shoppers that we are all navigating the situation as best we can.
Request a Free Quote From Traf-Sys Today
Shoppers are eager to continue celebrating holidays and shopping for Christmas during the pandemic. These steps can help you keep shoppers and employees safe all season long while continuing to make sales and grow your customer base. A Traf-Sys people counting system will allow you to maintain control over your store with automatic counting. When you pair it with our VisiCount software, you’ll also get valuable insights from your collected traffic data to help you make safer decisions for all involved. Request a free quote today!
Many industries use people counters as a way to understand what their daily traffic looks like. A store uses people counters to understand their busy times and their overall conversion rate. Libraries use people counters to understand their circulation in the context of how many visitors they have. Shopping centers, malls and other commercial property owners use people counters to gauge the desirability of their properties to retailers and set rents. In public spaces, colleges and universities, people counters track space utilization to assist with funding and resource distribution.
Businesses across sectors use people counters to get reliable data about their visitors and traffic patterns. They can apply this data to serve many purposes, which makes people counters so useful and versatile.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
Foot traffic is a metric many businesses use to understand how many people entered a specific location. Retailers use it to determine how many potential customers were in their store during a given time frame. Commercial landlords, especially those in shopping malls, use foot traffic to determine rent for retail locations. Retail space can command higher rent if more people pass by regularly.
Many businesses are familiar with traffic in how it relates to a website. Online, traffic is equal to the number of people who visited a website or particular page. Marketers use many tactics to drive traffic online, and the visitor count determines their success. An e-retailer looks at site traffic in relation to how many visitors placed an online order to learn how effective their website is at driving sales. Foot traffic is that same metric translated into the physical retail space.
Retailers use foot traffic to gain many useful insights. It lets them see when their peak hours are. They can also understand their conversion rate and lost sales opportunities. If a product doesn’t sell well during peak hours, it might be taking up valuable shelf space. A store can also correlate their business traffic to other events to see how they influence visitor counts. Boosting foot traffic is key to increasing sales, so understanding how visitor numbers rise and fall is critical.
How Do People Counters Measure Foot Traffic?
Online traffic is easy to measure. Most websites show their owners traffic graphs by default. To gain the same level of clarity over their visitor counts, physical businesses need to implement a people counting system.
One way to do this is to have someone count visitors with pen and paper or a handheld tally counter. The manual method is the least accurate and efficient. The staff member charged with counting visitors must be solely focused on counting people to avoid miscounts. Manual counting increases your labor expenses and limits staff productivity. If you have multiple store entrances, manual counting gets quite unwieldy. Even if staff members are incredibly focused, they’re still inclined to make errors because the task is so rote.
Electronic people counting systems boast 95%-99% accuracy and require no extra labor power to give you accurate counts. They measure business traffic and space utilization using either overhead or horizontal sensors. Overhead sensors go directly above the entrance and scan a predetermined zone in front of the door to identify pedestrians. They filter out shelves, carts, children and sometimes staff members to give you an accurate count. They also look at the direction of movement to separate those entering from those exiting. Overhead sensors might incorporate one or two video camera lenses, a thermal sensor or an infrared sensor.
Horizontal sensors work by projecting a break beam across the door frame. Whenever something passes through, it counts as a person. Anything tall enough to break the beam, including a loaded shopping cart, will be counted. Horizontal sensors can be uni-directional, meaning they count a person any time the beam breaks. In that case, you divide your final count by two to determine your actual traffic. They can also be bi-directional, where two parallel laser beams span the doorway. Whichever beam breaks first determines whether the pedestrian is entering or exiting.
People counters might give you a count by the hour or at the end of the day, depending on the system’s accuracy. Some types of overhead sensors can even track your foot traffic in real-time.
When you use automated people counters, you can access your foot traffic data via software. The software can break down your foot traffic into custom periods to compare traffic during a promotion or time of year to another. Analyze your data by the entrance to decide how to arrange your entrance displays. The software lets you import sales data to generate conversion rates and staffing data to track productivity in the context of traffic. You can also correlate traffic data to weather patterns or other external factors right from the software.
What Other Metrics Do People Counters Measure?
People counters measure more than just foot traffic. By counting the number of people visiting a business location, people counters can give you insights into:
A conversion rate is the number of transactions divided by the number of people who visit a store. Retailers used to assume most people who entered their store were buying something. When people counters become popular, the numbers told a different story. While the numbers remain hard to pin down, since not all stores track traffic accurately or at all, the industry average rests around a 20% conversion rate.
Understanding your conversion rate, rather than just your raw sales data, gives you an idea of how many sales opportunities you had. Even a 1% increase in conversions can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. The only way to improve is to understand how your promotions, store, signage and other factors raise and decrease your conversion rates.
Average Transaction Value (ATV)
One way retailers can increase their revenue is to increase the basket size or amount of money individual shoppers spend per visit. This amount represents your ATV — your net sales divided by the number of transactions. Your point-of-sale (POS) system might generate your ATV automatically. Otherwise, you can calculate the figure manually. While you don’t need a people counter to access your ATV, you’ll benefit from aggregating foot traffic with your ATV and comparing these two metrics.
A 2011 academic study found increasing in-store traffic by just one unit increased average sales volume per hour by $9.97. Many factors can contribute to your average transaction value, and traffic is undoubtedly one of them. Understanding how traffic affects basket size in your store helps you maximize your revenue.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
It’s impossible to understand your customer acquisition cost without understanding your traffic and conversion rate. Any marketing you do, whether on or off the premises, determines how many people come through the door. Then, the marketing within the store, product selection and layout determine who converts. All the costs that go into marketing divided by the number of customers acquired represent your CAC.
The data used to determine your CAC can come from your marketing budget and your POS system. It’s crucial to look at this number in light of your foot traffic to identify areas to lower your CAC. If you’re spending a lot of marketing budget getting people in the door, and they aren’t converting in-store, you may need to adjust your strategy. Increasing your conversion rate may lower your CAC.
Benefits of People Counters for Businesses
Retailers, librarians, facilities managers, landlords, hoteliers and anyone with a physical business location can use people counting technology. No matter your business, you’ll benefit from knowing how many people visit you and when. Foot traffic data offers businesses across industries actionable information. Here’s why your business needs a people counter:
Better Understand Business Performance
Seeing your foot traffic and conversion rate lets you know how effectively your business is performing. If a different marketing strategy or employee-to-customer ratio impacts traffic or conversions, you know about it from your foot traffic reports.
You can also compare the performance of one location to another. Are all your sites earning traffic in equal measure as a result of your marketing? Or, are some of your stores consistently pulling in more foot traffic? When you know which stores are drawing in the most customers, you can investigate what factors are at play so you can boost performance at other locations.
Improve Customer Experience
Peak hours sometimes correlate with your shoppers’ needs. For example, a store with peak shopping hours on weekends might cater to “shoppertainment.” Shoppers on weekends may be more interested in having an enjoyable, leisurely visit. A store with peak traffic after business hours on workdays needs a different approach. It might focus on helping shoppers quickly find what they need so they can get home sooner.
When you know your peak shopping hours, you can design a customer experience for the people shopping. It also lets you optimize staffing, so your store runs smoothly during busy times, improving customer experience.
Evaluate Signage and Promotional Success
Is your latest promotion driving more traffic to your location? Is your new sign drawing in passersby from around the plaza? Foot traffic data lets you know if your out-of-store promotions make an impact. Knowing your conversion rate, you’ll also see how your in-store displays affect sales in proportion to traffic. Based on how your traffic and conversions rise and fall, you can tweak your business marketing strategies to find the winning formula.
Compare Digital vs. Physical Traffic
Different types of marketing strategies for small businesses will have different effects on your customers’ behavior. For instance, some of your promotions drive traffic to your website and others to your brick-and-mortar location. Do the same factors that increase your physical traffic give you some lift online? Do you gain more online visitors when in-store traffic is low? Comparing your online and offline visitors lets you better understand your customer journey. Foot traffic shows you how your promotions influence shopping behavior across selling channels.
Understand External Factors That Affect Your Business
Anything from the weather and season to the economy and consumer trends can influence your traffic. Bad weather can impact sales by 23.1%, primarily due to the lowered foot traffic. While these factors are out of your control, knowing how they influence your traffic lets you prepare.
For instance, weather-themed sales, such as for rain clothing or beach fashion, can increase by 40.7% based on the weather. Knowing how weather affects your traffic and conversions in particular product categories helps you make the most out of weather events. You might orchestrate a last-minute sale on bathing suits or fans in anticipation of a heat wave. If snowstorms tend to make business slow, you can move your staff schedule around in anticipation. Likewise, if an annual parade in your area brings in more foot traffic, you can prepare with promotions to attract paradegoers.
Ideally, you want to schedule only as many team members as needed to cover the number of shoppers you have. If you’re understaffed, you’ll miss sales opportunities. Too few cashiers will increase lines at the register, which may turn away customers. Too few stockers may mean you run out of popular items and won’t sell as many as your customers demand. Overstaffing your store means you’ll spend more on labor than you need to.
Knowing what your traffic looks like by the day and by the hour lets you schedule staff most effectively. Once you’ve been using people counting for a year or two, you’ll start to anticipate your seasonal rushes, letting you optimize temporary staffing, too.
A people counter is an essential part of your loss prevention system if you know how to read your foot traffic reports. First, you’ll establish a baseline for how much revenue you can expect in a given period as correlated with your foot traffic. Let’s say you usually average about $500 in sales between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sundays, with usual foot traffic of 50 people.
If you get around 60 visitors one Sunday and sales revenue stays at around $500, the cause may be shoplifting. Your traffic data also shows you if more people used a particular entrance, like the one closest to electronics. If something like this shows up on your foot traffic reports, it’s a good idea to review your security footage during that sales window.
Video-based people counters can even supplement your regular security cameras.
Evaluate Business Expansion Opportunities
When you track foot traffic at your location, you’re armed with more knowledge regarding expanding. Since many commercial landlords track foot traffic, you can compare your current traffic numbers to those cited at a potential rental location. Predict whether a new site will be as profitable as your first based on the foot traffic data.
Types of People Counters
While there are two main categories of people counters, each has a few different options. Horizontal sensors give you a choice between bi-directional and uni-directional counting. Overhead sensors all offer multi-directional data, with either thermal and image-based counting. Each of these options provides a unique set of advantages and drawbacks.
Horizontal Wired and Wireless Counting Systems
Horizontal counting systems count people based on how many breaks in the horizontal laser beam they sense. These are the most basic and inexpensive automatic people counters. They might use bi- or uni-directional data to give you a count. Since horizontal sensors go along the doorframes of each entrance, they are fast and easy to install.
The downside of horizontal counting systems is their accuracy. Since they only have a linear range, miscounts are more likely. Two people walking abreast may be counted as one. A tall child accompanying an adult shopper might be counted as another potential shopper. If your sensor makes a noise when it senses a passerby, you might get children falsely triggering the sensor for fun.
A uni-directional sensor also makes it harder to pinpoint peak shopping hours. For example, say you take counts every hour using a uni-directional sensor. Every hour, on the hour, you divide your hourly count in two. Let’s say 25 people visited your location in a given hour, and many showed up in the last half of the hour. By the time the hour is up, only five of those 25 people have left the store. A uni-directional sensor would give you a count of 30. You would divide that in two, leaving you with 15. You would wrongly estimate you had 15 visitors during the hour when your traffic was 25.
Because of their accuracy limitations, a horizontal people counter is best for doorways narrower than 10 to 15 feet maximum. They also work better for low-density entrances, making them an affordable option for small businesses. Horizontal counters come in both wired and wireless versions. If you have outlets handy near each entry, you can plug your sensors in at a standard 110-volt power outlet. All the horizontal counters can be battery-powered, giving you a year or more of operation between replacements.
Overhead Counting Systems
Overhead sensors have a bird’s eye view of your entrance area. Since they cover the zones in front of your entrances and identify people individually, they give a more detailed view of your customers. They sense directional flow, so they automatically discount people exiting the store. They can also give you an idea of where your traffic is headed, whether that’s forward, to the right or to the left. Two types of technology can power overhead counting systems — thermal and video sensors. These two technologies can even integrate, so one verifies the other’s accuracy.
No matter which type you choose, you can gain distinct benefits from an overhead sensor. They’re an excellent option for locations with wide entrances and a large physical layout. Overhead sensors are more accurate and can filter out shopping carts and children.
Thermal Overhead Sensors
Thermal overhead sensors use thermal imaging technology to detect people entering and exiting. These systems use body heat, so they can’t accidentally count a cart or another object. Since thermal cameras don’t use light, they work equally well in low-light settings like restaurants and in direct sunlight.
Another benefit of thermal overhead sensors is they have an impressive 95% accuracy. They can cover wide entrances and integrate with detectors at other doors.
One downside to thermal sensors is they are more expensive than basic horizontal counters. Compared to video cameras, they have a smaller field of vision and a lower resolution. As a result, they’re less accurate at identifying children. One other disadvantage is they can only track people in motion. A display near the entrance that causes people to stop can affect the system’s accuracy.
Video-Based Overhead Sensors
The other type of overhead sensor is a system using a camera lens. These overhead counters can provide video footage of your store traffic. The sensor and corresponding software automatically generate traffic data. You also have up to 10 days of stored footage, which you can access for more in-depth analysis. Since the technology is video-based, it can even act as a backup for your security cameras.
Video sensors come in two types — single and dual-lens cameras. The dual cameras offer binocular vision for greater depth perception, while single-lens systems are more affordable. While they are most expensive to implement, video sensors provide excellent accuracy. They can filter out carts, strollers and children from your results with precision.
How to Choose the Right People Counter for Your Business
Your business will likely benefit from all the fantastic metrics available to you with a people counter. The question is, which one is right for you? Different people counters work better in different buildings and layouts. Ask yourself four questions to narrow down your options.
How is your entrance set up? If you have an open doorway, a horizontal counter may not provide accuracy. Horizontal counters work best with sliding doors since the doors won’t block the beam. If you have swing doors, you’ll need them to swing out. Also, low-volume entrances are more conducive to horizontal sensors.
How wide is your entrance? A wide opening — anything above 15 feet — will likely require an overhead people counter. You may need several overhead sensors to span the distance. We generally recommend one sensor per 11 feet of opening. Overhead counters will also need a wired connection to the ceiling.
What time intervals do you want to use when capturing traffic? If you only need a general count of how many people visit your business a day, a uni-directional horizontal sensor is all you need. If you want to capture data by the hour or even more frequently, a bi-directional sensor will work better. Track traffic over shorter intervals using either horizontal or overhead sensors.
Do people browse near your entryway? Since thermal sensors need people to be in motion for an accurate count, it may lose accuracy if shoppers stop near the entrance. A horizontal sensor won’t get confused unless someone stops in the exact path of the laser beam. However, if you have many people browsing in the entryway, you may want to collect more data. Video-based sensors can keep an eye on shoppers who stop to browse and those who pass on through. Review the stored footage from your overhead sensor to get an idea of how many of your visitors pause to browse your display entrances.
Request Your Free Quote From Traf-Sys
Traf-Sys offers an array of people counting systems to meet the needs of any business. Our most sophisticated people counting system, SafeEntry and SafeCount, offers real-time people counting for occupancy monitoring. We also provide affordable horizontal people counters and data-rich overhead people counters. Our systems are between 95%-99% accurate, and we’ll assist you through the entire installation process. We can help you decide which people counter is right for you and teach you to make sense of your foot traffic data after implementation.
Ready to start collecting valuable data about your visitors? Tell us about your company and the products you’re interested in and request your free quote today.
Technology is on the menu for many restaurants looking for ways to improve their operations, enhance the customer experience and increase profits. One of the tech tools you may not have considered yet for your restaurant business is a people counting system. These systems are especially popular in the retail industry, but some restaurateurs are catching on to the fact that people counting systems also have some valuable applications in their sector.
These systems can help restaurant owners and managers monitor their occupancy levels for social distancing requirements and provide them with important metrics for managing and improving their businesses. If you’re interested in these major benefits, take a moment to learn more about people counting systems and how you can use them in your restaurant.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
If you’re new to the world of people counting systems, there are a few things you need to know. People counting systems can consist of only software or a combination of hardware and software. In either case, they help you monitor the number of people who visit your business. This can help with tracking in real-time to remain within capacity limits and providing data that can help you measure your restaurant’s success.
Some systems use software installed on your devices, such as a touch-screen tablet or mobile phone, to facilitate people counting. In these systems, you need employees stationed at each entry point of your restaurant. The employee will indicate on their device each time a person enters or exits the building.
Even if you have several entrances and exits, you can have multiple employees track people coming in or going out. The software will combine the input from all workers to keep an accurate count of the total number of people inside at any given time.
2. Thermal Overhead Sensors
Overhead counting systems with combined hardware and software have some advantages over software-only programs since they automate the process. Thermal overhead systems register when a person walks in your restaurant by sensing their body heat.
These systems are highly accurate, and they have multidirectional sensing. In other words, they can tell whether a person is entering or exiting your restaurant based on the direction they’re moving toward. They can even sense how people move around inside your restaurant.
3. Video-Based Overhead Sensors
Another type of overhead sensor is a video-based system. These processes use video cameras mounted on the ceiling to visually track people entering and leaving your restaurant.
This can help you monitor the number of patrons in your restaurant. These systems can also filter out children and strollers, so you can count only adults if you want. Video systems require adequate lighting to sense people’s comings and goings.
Using People Counting Systems to Monitor Restaurant Occupancy Limits
All restaurants have occupancy limits. Building inspectors set these limits according to guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). If your restaurant is divided into separate rooms, such as the main dining area and a private banquet or set of party rooms, you’ll have distinct occupancy load ratings for each of these spaces. When restaurants purchase tables and chairs and arrange their seating, they should make sure their restaurant’s seating capacity does not exceed their official capacity limits.
Normally, once you’ve arranged your restaurant’s seating, you never have to give your occupancy limits a second thought unless you notice there are areas where too much congestion occurs and people are uncomfortable. However, for restaurants serving customers in the COVID-19 era, occupancy limits have become a crucial issue at the forefront of adapting to meet new challenges.
The Importance of Occupancy Limits During COVID-19
In many cases, state and local governmental bodies have imposed new restrictions on restaurants to ensure they avoid overcrowding and encourage social or physical distancing. This practice is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as remaining 6 feet apart from people who are not in your household. This distance can provide a buffer between occupants that prevents them from passing germs, as they would be more likely to do if they were close together.
For many restaurants, promoting social distancing means adjusting their capacity limits for the time being. Even in the absence of government mandates, restaurants should still adjust their capacities and layouts as needed to follow CDC guidelines and create safe environments for their customers.
How to Measure Restaurant Occupancy Limits
Some local mandates require restaurants to limit their capacity to a certain percentage of their maximum load rating. For example, bars and restaurants in Minnesota must restrict their capacities to a maximum of 50%. If their normal capacity limit was 150 people, it would now be just 75 people. Limiting capacity according to a percentage can be a helpful way forward for restaurants looking to reduce crowding.
However, you may be able to arrive at a more precise calculation by determining the number of customers or parties you can fit in your dining room while maintaining 6 feet between tables. Normally, restaurants should allow at least 18 inches between seats that back up to each other, but this amount of space isn’t enough for physical distancing.
The CDC recommends reworking your restaurant’s layout to allow for adequate social distancing. Once you’ve created an arrangement that enables this, count the number of seats to arrive at your dining area’s new maximum capacity. Keep in mind that this number does not include waitstaff, so it is best to err on the side of allowing a bit of extra space.
You may think that spacing out tables and seats is enough to ensure you stay within your new capacity limits, but that isn’t necessarily the case. You could have people crowded in your lobby, for instance, causing you to exceed your restaurant’s safe capacity limits.
This is where people counting systems can prove extremely useful. Whether by using employees equipped with occupancy counting software or automatic people counting devices, your restaurant can accurately track the total number of people inside at any given time. This way, you can be sure you’re staying within your new maximum capacity rating and encouraging social distancing.
Accurate occupancy tracking is especially critical if you’re trying to follow mandates from your local government. Even without those mandates, though, you want to demonstrate to the public that you care about their well-being and are serious about your social distancing policies. By using a people counting system and enforcing your capacity limits, you can avoid unsafe instances of overcrowding.
Using People Counting Systems to Improve Restaurant Profitability
People counting systems are helpful for more than just monitoring capacity limits. They can also help owners and managers develop strategies to increase sales in restaurants by providing critical data. There are many metrics, also called key performance indicators (KPIs), restaurants can use to measure their profitability.
Some of these metrics involve costs and other things that do not relate to occupancy. Some KPIs, however, deal with foot traffic, conversion rates and other factors associated with the number of people who enter your restaurant and enjoy a drink or meal there. A people counting system can help you track these KPIs, which subsequently gives you enhanced insight into how your business runs and how you can improve your building layout to better serve customers.
Profitability Metrics for Restaurants
Restaurateurs should pay attention to various metrics to gain a full and objective picture of how their restaurant is doing and where they can improve their practices. When you make a change, you can use the data once again to see what effect it had. Simply relying on general impressions and hunches is a poor way to do business since these things can often be wrong. Instead, you should rely on data.
What sort of data? Restaurants should start by establishing variables like their fixed overhead costs and break-even point so they understand the baseline they need to meet to be profitable. Aside from these basic measurements, some KPIs that restaurants should consider tracking include:
Cost of goods sold (COGS): The cost of goods sold is essentially the cost of your inventory. In this case, those are the ingredients that go into making the dishes you sell. You need to know this cost so you can determine which prices to put on your menu and how much you need to sell to be profitable.
Labor cost: Another important number you need to know is how much you spend on compensating your employees. Adding your labor costs and COGS together gives you your prime cost. You also want to identify the labor cost percentage. In other words, what percentage of your total sales will pay your employees?
RevPASH: A helpful way to measure profitability in the restaurant industry is revenue per available seat hour (RevPASH). To calculate your restaurant’s RevPASH, you divide your revenue for a certain time period by the number of seat hours in that same period. This tells you how much money, on average, each seat is pulling in.
Average ticket size: This KPI is also commonly called sales per head. This metric is a measure of how much the average diner or party spends at your restaurant. You’ll typically want to note these averages separately for different times of day, such as lunch and dinner service.
Table turn time: You should also know the average amount of time a party spends eating and relaxing around a table in your restaurant. This can help you determine how many people you can host during an average day or lunch or dinner service.
Occupancy rates: It’s also helpful to know what percentage of your tables or seats are occupied with paying customers at any given time. In addition to the average table occupancy, you’ll want to note which times of day are busiest and which are slowest so you can plan and staff accordingly.
Conversion rates: One of the most important KPIs you can measure is your conversion rate, especially if your restaurant is in an area with a lot of foot traffic where people come in to check the place out or view your menu. This is the percentage of people who step through your front door who end up making a purchase.
Gross profit: Gross profit is the money left over after you’ve subtracted the cost of goods sold from your revenue. You can calculate this cost for specific periods to determine the gross profit you made during that time. Keep in mind that some of your gross profit will go to cover fixed overhead costs.
These numbers aren’t very helpful in a vacuum. Restaurants often compare their KPIs to restaurant financial benchmarks to determine the health of their businesses. For instance, understanding the norm for restaurant industry sales can help you know whether yours are on point. You can also use KPIs to compare the performance of various restaurant locations or compare your restaurant’s profitability at different seasons or year over year.
Using a People Counting System to Help You Manage Your Restaurant
Notice that some of the KPIs above require you to know how many people are visiting your restaurant. In some cases, you could use a modern point of sale (POS) system to track sales data, but this will only give you information about tickets. To know the precise number of people in your restaurant and to determine conversion rates, you need a system that accounts for every person who walks into your establishment. You can get this data with a people counting system.
Using a people counting system to measure restaurant traffic has some important benefits for tracking your restaurant’s performance and helping you strategize to improve your business. The data your system provides can help you with:
Scheduling: Your people counting system could give you valuable insight into what days of the week or times of day are busiest and which are slowest, so you can schedule staff strategically. This can help you avoid under- and overstaffing, which could then lead to reduced labor costs.
Promotions: Accurately understanding slow times can also help you determine when you may need to offer a special promotion to drive more traffic to your business. If you do create promotions, you can use your people counting system to determine how successful or unsuccessful your initiative was in driving more traffic.
Conversions: Strategies to increase sales in restaurants must start with an accurate understanding of your current conversion rates. Comparing your people counting data to your sales information will show you any gap that exists in the people who come in and people who are paying customers. These are the potential patrons who decide to leave rather than be seated or order at the counter. If you have a conversion rate that is less than ideal, it’s time to find ways to convert these skeptical walk-ins.
Traffic trends: You can also use this data to determine whether your restaurant is experiencing growth or a decline in popularity. This could change from quarter to quarter or year to year. You can also compare the traffic levels at different restaurant locations. You may find your marketing strategy needs to focus on how to increase foot traffic to your restaurant.
Footfall patterns: If you have multiple entrances, you can also use people counting systems to see which entrances your patrons use most, which could differ depending on the time of day or other factors. This can help you decide where to place host podiums or signs directing customers to seat themselves or telling them where they need to go.
Customer experience: Ultimately, tracking foot traffic numbers and patterns in your restaurant can help you deliver an improved customer experience. Whether through better staffing decisions, an adjusted layout or any other improvement you’ve made, customers can enjoy a better experience at your restaurant.
Considerations When Choosing the Right People Counting System for Your Restaurant
According to an industry report from Toast, a provider of hardware and software solutions for restaurants, 95% of restaurateurs believe restaurant technology improves their business efficiency. What holds restaurant owners back from purchasing new technology for their businesses? In many cases, it’s the overwhelming nature of all the tech options out there today. How can you know what you really need?
In addition to important tools like POS systems, digital menu screens and online ordering features, you should also seriously consider investing in a people counting system. As we’ve seen, this simple addition to your restaurant can pull in valuable data to help you manage your company more successfully. It could help you significantly as you monitor occupancy levels. The question then becomes, how can you choose the best people counting system for your restaurant?
Consider each of these questions to determine what type of system is best for your application:
What is your budget? One practical concern you’ll need to consider is your budget. If you want to invest in a people counting system, but you’re working within a tight budget, you may want to consider a software-only solution. Keep in mind, however, that this means employees have to monitor entrances. Alternatively, you could start by leasing a system and then make a purchase later when your budget allows.
Do you have an outlet near your entrance? If you’re looking at wired systems, make sure you have an electrical outlet near your entrance. If not, stick to wireless ones.
Do people tend to linger at your entrance? If you have a large entrance where people tend to linger or congregate to wait to order or wait on tables, an overhead video system is probably the best option since it can detect people’s presence even if they are standing still.
Does your entrance double as an exit? If you have people entering and exiting through the same doors, which is typical for most restaurants, then you will need multidirectional — or bidirectional — sensors that can tell whether someone is coming in or leaving. Multidirectional systems, such as thermal overhead programs, are beneficial for giving you an accurate count of how many people are inside your restaurant.
Do you have more than one entrance? If you have more than one entry point to your restaurant, you’ll need a system with multiple sensors that coordinate using the same software. This way, you can combine the data from each door to get an accurate count.
Get a Free Quote From Traf-Sys
Some restaurants are installing people counters to meet the challenges associated with COVID-19. However, as we’ve seen, people counting systems can deliver a whole host of benefits to restaurants by providing valuable data on traffic quantity and patterns. For these reasons, people counting systems will maintain a strong presence in restaurants well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Capacity and occupancy counting is new territory for many retailers. Once, it made sense to use a people counting system that could give you a tally at the end of the day or even once per hour. In this way, people counting technology has been used for many years to predict staffing needs and calculate conversion rates.
The issue for retailers today is in finding the best store traffic counters to achieve real-time occupancy tracking. While the technology has been around for years, not all systems can handle continuous monitoring. So, we’ve compiled this guide to everything you need to know about using customer counters for capacity limits. Learn about the benefits of using this technology, check out features you should look for and compare the systems available.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
Today, live occupancy counts are being used to comply with building capacity limits with continuous monitoring. When enforcing fire codes or other safety measures, accurate counting allows you to meet occupancy limits without sacrificing customers. You can also improve shopper satisfaction and maximize sales opportunities. If you keep a line outside your store to stay under capacity, a live count can allow customers to see the current occupancy and decide if they want to wait in line.
As real-time occupancy tracking evolves, retailers will be able to optimize staffing even more. Knowing how many people are in your store and what time they entered allows you to predict how many registers to keep open. You can keep checkout wait times down and avoid short-staffed registers. That level of detail lets you maximize your cashiers’ efficiency, moving them to other duties when occupancy decreases.
The right technology allows you to track staff members separately from customers. This ability can also improve efficiency. For example, imagine the current occupancy count calls for five checkout lanes to be open in 15 minutes. The store manager can use people tracking to see if staff opened five lanes and intervene if needed. The possibilities for continuous occupancy tracking continue to grow as more retailers adopt the technology and begin harnessing its power.
What to Consider Before Choosing Your Customer Counter
People counting technology harnesses sensors to provide a count of how many people enter a store, room or building. Among the many reasons to use a customer counter, limiting or enforcing store capacity is an increasing need. Before you can choose one for your store, you need to evaluate your setting to understand which models will work for you.
First, look at your entrance. Swinging doors may impede the use of certain types of sensors. Some people counters work better for larger doorways, while others can only handle entries up to a specific width. If you have displays and frequent browsing taking place near the entrance, you’ll need a system that can distinguish various objects and movements to avoid miscounts.
Further, you’ll likely need to consider your power requirements. Some models require nearby plug-in power sources, usually a 110-volt outlet. Others offer wireless capabilities with rechargeable or lithium batteries and Power of Ethernet (PoE) capabilities.
Best Features for Capacity Limit People Counters
Most retail people counting systems measure conversion rates. They allow you to look at the total number of sales in the context of the number of people in the store. Depending on the system used, you may receive counts at the end of the day or by the hour. This system works well for marketing purposes, but it may not be ideal for occupancy counting.
If your store plans to use your customer counter to enforce capacity limits, be on the lookout for six key features:
Bi-directional counting: Not every people counting system is optimized for occupancy tracking. To get an accurate picture of who is in your store at a particular time, you need to track both people leaving and entering.
Real-time reporting: A people counting system with intuitive software should be able to give you live reporting. This function allows you to monitor capacity by the minute rather than by the day or hour.
Customization options: The possibilities for people counting are vast. While you may use your counter primarily for occupancy tracking, you may want features for internal metrics. In that case, the ability to connect it to other devices and the right software is critical. You’ll also want the ability to set a custom maximum capacity and a counting range. Finally, it’s helpful to distinguish employees from customers.
Customer-facing display: A digital display allows customers to understand your current capacity. It lets them know when it is safe to enter or how crowded the store will be.
Whole-store tracking: Many sensors can link together in a network. This feature is useful when a store has multiple entrances. Many stores have found it challenging to set the right capacity limit. With integrated tracking, you can find the proper capacity for your space to avoid crowding without sacrificing customers.
Overhead counting: You’ll need an overhead-style people counter to access live reporting. Counters installed on the ceiling directly above your entrances provide the most reliability. With a bird’s eye view, individuals cannot be blocked from the sensors. These counters can be used with doors that swing in either direction and can filter out children, shopping carts and strollers to help you get the most accurate count of your customers. An aerial view also allows these counters to track movement, meaning they can distinguish between shoppers entering and exiting. If there are merchandise displays in the entryway, overhead sensors will not be disrupted, and lingering shoppers won’t be counted more than once. You’ll likely need a power source and a wireless internet connection for live overhead tracking.
Types of Customer Counters for Store Capacity Limits
There are many different types of people counting systems on the market. Each one has unique features that make them ideal for specific environments. To use a people counter for capacity tracking, you’ll need models capable of providing accurate, real-time reports. Keep in mind that many people counters are designed with marketing analytics in mind rather than capacity planning. While any occupancy counter will also be able to provide data to measure conversion rates and the success of your marketing campaigns, not all people counters support live occupancy reporting. Here are two of the best customer counters available, and their level of suitability for live capacity monitoring:
1. Stereo People Counters
Stereo counters are about the size of a rectangular pencil case with two camera lenses. Like human eyesight, the dual cameras provide depth of field. The technology is modeled closely after how binocular vision works in nature. Each of your eyes creates a slightly different image, which your brain combines to create an understanding of your surroundings in three dimensions.
Most stereo sensors mimic the typical distance between human eyes, which averages around 60 millimeters. The software connected to the sensors does the same work as our brains, making sense of the two images collected by each of the camera lenses for 3D image processing. The result is a sensor that can count people as well as a person can. Unlike a person, the technology won’t get fatigued and is less likely to make mistakes.
Benefits of Stereo People Counting Systems
The dual-camera configuration allows the sensor to track the direction of traffic and other useful data. These systems usually attach to the ceiling above the measurement area. They can be slightly tilted to create a broader field of vision while maintaining accuracy. Stereo counters won’t lose sight of their targets even with gaps in traffic flow, making them suitable for high and low volumes. They can monitor entries and exits in real-time. Because of their depth of field, they can estimate heights, identify children and exclude shopping carts for greater accuracy.
Stereo sensors can also be linked in a network to cover every entrance. This feature makes them useful for shopping malls, large department stores or any building with multiple entrances and exits. Because they update via software in real time, an employee at one entrance can tell how many people have entered a store through any door. This capability significantly eases communication and visibility since you don’t have to aggregate information from several employees taking manual counts.
Drawbacks of Stereo People Counting Systems
One potential downside of a stereo counting system is that it uses cameras to identify and track people. Because cameras use visible light, changes in lighting and dim conditions can affect accuracy. Shadows and a busy background can also occasionally influence results. Traf-Sys systems have advanced light sensors that help our stereo counters adjust to different lighting conditions, making them more accurate in various ambient lighting conditions.
Collecting images of your shoppers may present a privacy concern. If your store already uses and stores security footage, you can adapt your current privacy procedures to protect your customers. If privacy is a concern for you, we recommend our time of flight people counting systems, which eliminate this obstacle.
Stereo Counters Available From Traf-Sys
Traf-Sys offers a variety of binocular stereo video sensor models in our Spectrum collection. We have options for indoor heights up to 29.5 feet. We also have systems for outdoor applications with waterproof hardware. They are resilient to changes in lighting or temperature, making them some of the most advanced camera trackers. They also have options to filter out strollers and carts to maintain an accurate capacity count and avoid sacrificing potential revenue. Our systems also have extended coverage for broader entries.
2. Time of Flight Sensor
At about the size of a Wi-Fi router, a time of flight sensor uses some of the most advanced tracking technology. Like a stereo counter, a time of flight sensor can be used for 3D imaging. It sends a signal to the objects below it from its attachment point on the ceiling. Then, it records the reflection of infrared light as it bounces back to the sensor. It can build 3D images of customers by calculating the differences in speed between each beam of infrared light — hence the name, “time of flight.” With excellent depth of field, it can track movement and traffic better than stereo models. These sensors can work even in total darkness and link with other cameras to cover a wide entrance and enhance your data.
Benefits of Time of Flight Sensors
Time of flight people counters can track movement along x-, y- and z-axes. The result is even higher accuracy when it comes to tracking movement. They can calculate the heights of individuals within 2 centimeters, making them even more powerful at filtering out shopping carts and children. The images collected by time of flight sensors delineate the shape of a person with incredible accuracy, even outlining the contours of heads and shoulders. Like stereo sensors, they can be mounted on a tilt, increasing the measuring zone for wider entrances.
They are also lighting fast. One study found that time of flight sensors can measure at 150 frames per second, making real-time reporting possible. The same report also found that these sensitive instruments have a minimal average error rate of just 3.1%.
Because time of flight technology works on infrared rather than visible light, it also collects completely anonymous data. You will not need to adopt new practices to protect your customers. Further, it is unaffected by busy floor patterns or shadows.
Drawbacks of Time of Flight Sensors
Though this technology is promising, not all manufacturers can boast excellent performance. It’s crucial to find a provider who can back up their accuracy claims. The Traf-Sys time of flight tracking system has a 99.5% accuracy rating, and we’ve backed this up with video validation.
One other disadvantage of time of flight sensors is they tend to be more expensive to implement than stereo counters. If budget is a concern for you, you may prefer stereo occupancy monitoring solutions.
Time of Flight People Counting Systems From Traf-Sys
The Traf-Sys SafeCount occupancy counter uses Vector 4D time of flight tracking technology. Unlike other trackers for marketing metrics, this system and software are built for capacity counting. It’s an easy-to-install solution that can be out of the box and ready to go in 30 minutes. It can also count staff members separately from customers, using anonymous lanyards.
The connected software provides a real-time occupancy count. Connected screens use color-coded warnings when the occupancy is approaching or exceeding capacity. You also have the option to include or exclude staff and keep the records for marketing analysis. SafeCount is for small businesses with one entrance and exit. For larger stores, we recommend using SafeCountPlus at every doorway to collect integrated data.
Learn More About Real-Time Occupancy Monitoring From Traf-Sys
At Traf-Sys, we offer a wide selection of people counters for a variety of purposes. We’ve been at the forefront of continuous people counting through our SafeCount time of flight capacity tracking solution. We also offer one of the best apps for people counting on iPads, smartphones and other mobile devices. Our SafeEntry application is optimized for occupancy tracking, while VisiCount provides advanced footfall analytics, which you can access right from your device.
Long lines cost retailers a collective $37.7 billion a year. They’re also the element of your customers’ shopping experience that they’re least happy with. Only 23% of shoppers say they are satisfied with the length of the lines at their preferred supermarket. Meanwhile, 18% of shoppers say they’ll choose a competing grocery store for a better checkout experience and a shorter queue.
Queuing plays a significant role in the customer experience — more than retailers previously thought. Finding ways to manage lines and create the best customer queuing system can have a considerable impact on how long customers wait and improve your ability to serve customers. We’ve created this overview of the processes, tools and tricks you can use to enhance your customers’ queuing experience.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
Customer queues exist throughout your supermarket or retail store. Checkout aisles and service desks are two prime examples. Grocery stores may have additional, miniature lines at the deli or seafood counters. Take-a-number systems, often used in those departments, create customer queues without asking patrons to stand in a single file.
Meanwhile, department stores might create checkout queues for popular departments, making it easier for customers to find the checkout counter and wait in a shorter line. Anywhere where your customers have to line up to receive service in an orderly fashion counts as a customer queue. However, not all queues involve standing in line, in the traditional sense. You may have experienced a digital customer queue if you’ve ever waited to connect with a customer service agent online.
Customer queues have been a staple of retail and most in-person, service-based industries. Patients wait in a less-obvious customer queue at the hospital or doctor’s office. In this case, the line is disguised as a waiting room, with the queuing happening in the back office as nurses prepare exam rooms and keep a list of arrivals at the check-in counter. Restaurants employ customer queuing during busy times as diners wait to be seated. Dining facilities have found ways to improve the waiting experience by giving customers a call or text when their table is ready.
Queuing isn’t always first-come, first-serve. In stores, where most queuing involves customers physically standing in line, the order is determined by the speed of checkout lanes. This phenomenon is one of retail’s main concerns when it comes to customer queues. When lines are organized into parallel rows, some can get held up. Larger basket sizes, slow equipment or an issue requiring a manager’s attention can hold up the line for one register. This clog leads the lanes on either side to move faster. Customers become frustrated when they see people who arrived after them being served before them in the lines nearby. So, how can retailers resolve this and all the issues that lead to unbearable wait times?
Customer Behavior in the Queuing System
The first step to resolving issues in the waiting line is understanding the customer psychology that contributes to them. Your customers can spend over an hour leisurely comparing brands, browsing your aisles and generally enjoying the experience for it to be suddenly sullied by a seven-minute wait at checkout. Here are some of the consumer behaviors at play in your checkout aisles:
Jockeying: Also known as queue jumping, jockeying involves customers switching lines to avoid long waits. A non-retail example of this is traffic congestion on the highway. Many drivers see the lane next to them moving faster than the one they are in and will switch from lane to lane to try to go more quickly. Studies show that lane-switchers worsen traffic jams. Motorists will become more frustrated when the lane they’ve joined ends up moving more slowly than the one they came from. In a retail setting, jockeying will decrease the wait time for the starting line while adding to the wait time at the new line. Just as in traffic, shoppers are often bad at judging how fast a queue will move, and sometimes wait longer than if they stayed in place.
Balking: After seeing a long line, some customers will choose not to wait at all. There are two leading causes of balking. First, the queue may be so long there is no place to wait. Second, the customer may anticipate an unpleasant wait time and choose not to buy anything at all. Balking costs your store revenue through reduced conversions. Among your balkers are a group of people who have done all the work to find the items and decide to buy them only to reverse course before making it to the register. As a secondary issue, balkers may be more likely to put merchandise back incorrectly and create more work for your team. Unlike lines in amusement parks, which promise excitement and thrill at the end, stores must find ways to convince people to wait.
Reneging: Similar to balking, some customers will get in line and then, after waiting for a few minutes, decide to leave. Line abandonment leads to lost conversions just feet before the checkout. Finding ways to streamline the checkout process to shave the waiting time by only a few minutes can prevent this profit-eating behavior. Ensuring the lines move quickly and appear efficient, even when long, can help avoid reneging.
Ways to Manage Customer Service and Checkout Queues
A fast-moving queue prevents many of the revenue drains created by long lines. The right system will improve the organization of your queues and how your staff handles them. For example, one effective process would involve a cashier calling over patrons from a long line. The key to superior queuing is to reduce both actual and perceived wait time. Reducing wait times saves everyone time and increases store productivity. Lowering perceived wait times boosts customer satisfaction, even if the wait doesn’t change.
Types of Customer Queues
The good news is that the way you design your line can impact the wait time and how it feels to customers. Here are some strategies for your customer queuing system:
Serpentine line: The serpentine line is deceptively long and moves much faster than parallel checkout lanes found at many supermarkets. Instead, a set of checkout stations sit in front of a long, snaking line. These lines are often managed with a set of belt stanchions or shelves to create a space-saving S shape. Whichever register completes a transaction first calls the next customer to checkout. This system eliminates a holdup at one register from affecting other customers, reducing wait times overall. Many retailers find the serpentine line design speeds up their queues and helps customers leave happy. It also operates on the principle of first-come, first-served. The model appeals to people’s psychological desire for fairness. Even if wait times are only slightly shorter, shoppers recognize that they are being served in the order in which they came. They also have no shorter, faster line to compare their experience to. The one downside to this model is that customers may balk at the size of the line.
Prioritized lines: Many customer queues serve certain customers over others to improve wait times. A typical example of this is during airline boarding procedures. Splitting passengers into groups shortens the perceived wait times since each line is shorter. It also allows VIP customers, those who spend more money with the airline, to be served more quickly. While the prioritization strategy doesn’t have the same applications in retail, the express lane serves a similar purpose. However, express lanes are better at reducing perceived wait times than actual wait times. One study found that it takes cashiers a fixed 41 seconds to greet each customer and receive payments. Then, it’s only an additional three seconds per item. So, an express lane with 10 people will likely move slower than another lane with three people.
Sign-in to wait online: An innovation in the world of retail is appointment-based checkouts. Instead of asking customers to physically stand in line, they sign in at a kiosk or through their mobile phones. They are then given a checkout time or a selection of times to choose from. So, instead of holding their spot in line, customers can browse freely. A kiosk at the front door lets customers “wait in line” while they shop. An app can even allow your customers to sign up for a checkout slot before leaving the house. It’s like a take-a-number system for the digital world. A few downsides to this method is that with a set checkout time, customers may be discouraged from shopping at a leisurely pace and become less likely to add impulse buys to their carts. On the other hand, if the wait time is a bit longer, they may end up doing more of this browsing.
No line: Some retailers have decided to end the checkout line altogether. Retail’s no-line pioneers have associates checkout customers through portable card readers throughout the store. Now, retailers of all stripes can try removing the queue. Through a card-enabled mobile app, customers can scan barcodes on their phones as they go. When they’re ready to checkout, shoppers head toward a special kiosk where they can bag items and have their purchase verified.
Tricks to Improve Wait Times
Of course, redesigning your checkout line isn’t the only way to manage customer queues. Here are a few tactics any grocer or retailer can use to speed up checkout lines:
Collect wait time analytics: The first step to improving wait times is understanding how long they are. Tracking how wait times respond to variables is crucial for strategic decision-making. Line wait time is complicated and dependent on many factors. A hold up at the register, like a declined credit card or a rewards card signup, is one factor. Basket sizes, the speed of the checkout clerk and the number of customers in line each play their parts.
Display wait times: Once you can track wait times, consider posting them on a dynamic display. Knowing how long the wait will be makes it feel shorter. It also reduces waiting anxiety since customers can tell just how long they will stand in line. The key to improving customer service is the line is to overestimate the time frames. If customers hear that the line will take five minutes and it ends up taking 10, they’re likely to become annoyed. On the flip side, if an estimated 15 minutes turns into seven, customers feel they’ve saved time.
Try in-line entertainment: Time spent idle will almost always feel longer than time spent engaged in a task. It’s why half an hour of browsing feels quick and half an hour waiting in line is intolerable. Stores combat this through the careful selection of add-on items at the register. Between enticing tabloids and an array of quick bites and knick-knacks, there’s plenty to grab shoppers’ eyes while they wait. Retailers can also place screens above the register, displaying dynamic, attention-grabbing ads. Free Wi-Fi can also help shoppers entertain themselves with their own devices while waiting in the queue.
Improve processes and training: The way your staff handles checkouts can also impact speeds. Ensure cashiers master all the functions on their register. Baggers should know the fastest methods for consolidating items. You can also reduce wait times by helping cashiers need fewer manager approvals for everyday scenarios.
Use modern technology: A broken scanner or a slow receipt printer can add time to every sale. Complicated self-checkout machines force every customer to master a slow, unintuitive device. The latest technology will be more accessible for both staff and customers and process transactions quickly. Further, modern point-of-sale technology will have time-saving features like contactless pay.
How to Use People Counters to Improve Customer Queues
People counters take an exact count of stores’ total daily visitors and reveal peak shopping times. Within the store, they root out bottlenecks and underused areas while mapping customer journeys. People counters are also crucial tools to control queues.
Measure Conversion Rates
First, you can use people counting systems to track total visitors against sales. Understanding your conversion rate also reveals how many people skipped the register. Then, footfall data helps you learn what sends customers out the door. In-depth customer research through surveys and other methods may reveal the problem is unavailability or poor selection. If beelines for the exit stem from the checkout waiting area, you then know the problem is inconvenient queues.
Resolve Wait Times With Occupancy Data
Once you identify customer queuing as a significant pain point for your patrons, you can use people counting to resolve it. The first way is through staff optimization. If you install a people counter, patterns about your busiest hours will soon emerge. These peak hours often don’t line up with what we predict. Many assume their peak hours align with the end of the workday when traffic sometimes spikes during lunch breaks.
Once you establish these weekly patterns, you can assign registers accordingly. By keeping the checkout lanes staffed during your expected rushes, you’re prepared to serve an influx of customers. Knowing your real traffic patterns prevents you from understaffing because you think it will be slow. As an added benefit, you don’t have to staff as many registers during your off-hours, saving on labor and allowing you to use your team more effectively.
Besides your historical occupancy data, you can also leverage live reporting to adjust your checkout staffing. The average amount of time spent per shopping trip is roughly 45 minutes, according to Pew Research. If you have a real-time capacity counting system, you find out about spikes in your current occupancy about 30 minutes before those customers get in line to check out. While your weekly analytics should cover the usual rushes, live occupancy counting can help you get ahead of unexpected ones to prevent long waits.
Customer Queuing and Social Distancing
The start of the COVID-19 outbreak marked a new era for grocery stores, suddenly deemed essential businesses. Stores struggled to keep up with the demand for cleaning products, soap and other essentials as customers stocked up to weather quarantines with unknown ends. Meanwhile, nonessential retailers closed their doors in wait of state reopening guidance. Stores must learn to balance social distancing with customer service. Inside the stores that remain open or that have reopened, changes in layout could mean one-way foot traffic. Floor markers line the walkways in 6-foot increments.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, customers are stuck in a new type of queue — the line to get in the store. As grocery and retail stores must limit capacity to 50% or even lower, lines form outside the doors as shoppers flock to buy essentials. That extra line is another bump in the customer journey, where long waits translate into poor experience. It’s a second tollgate where you face balkers and renegers. Some crowdsourced apps let shoppers check the wait times for various retailers. So, a long entry queue could be sending customers who never even see the line to your competition.
Social Distancing and the Checkout Queue
To maintain capacity, the next customer in line must wait until another shopper exits. The “one in, one out” system means the checkout line’s speed reflects the pace of the entry line pretty closely. So, boosting speeds at checkout will naturally improve the experience at the entrance.
One potential hangup is that 59% of consumers report using self-checkout more to protect themselves. These systems need to be cleaned often and can be slower if the technology confuses people. Even if your store uses parallel registers, a socially-distanced serpentine line for self-checkout can help. Also, keeping plenty of staff available to deal with technical issues can speed things up.
Other measures, like curbside pickup, can help you maintain correct social distancing by limiting the number of customers who enter the store. It works similarly to a digital sign-in system, where customers can book a time to have their items brought out to them. The waiting happens from the comfort of home rather than in a line.
Social Distancing and the Entrance Queue
Using a people counting system for capacity limits can be useful at your front doors. For example, the Traf-Sys SafeEntry software will display your current capacity limit and the number of “safe to admit” patrons. Meanwhile, the easy-to-install SafeCount system counts people entering through all doorways with precision and accuracy. Employees know who to allow inside, and customers receive clear communication in-queue. This system can ease customers and help them gauge how long they’ll need to wait.
The software also has the benefit of calculating your store’s busiest times. Since 66% of consumers say they now prefer to shop at slower times, information on your peaks is vital. Displaying this data in-store can be another service you provide to your customers. Further, posting your quietest hours can encourage more of your shoppers to visit then. By funneling more of your customers into your uncongested shopping times, you’ll keep capacity down at your busier times. It helps you maintain social distancing in-store while serving more of your customers quickly.
Use Traf-Sys People Counters to Improve Your Customer Queues
Traf-Sys people counting systems have helped retailers like you improve their queuing experience at the checkout with better footfall and occupancy counting. Our SafeEntry and SafeCount occupancy counting system provides a live report of your current occupancy, configured for every entrance. While SafeEntry provides an employee- and customer-facing interface for your live capacity count, SafeCount uses powerful overhead sensors to track customers entering and exiting. Accurate data helps you manage your entrance lines by letting in as many people as your limited capacity will allow, keeping customers happier and feeling safer.
For more information about our SafeEntry and SafeCount system or any of our customer counting solutions, request your free quote today.
Although the concept of social distancing, or maintaining space between people, is not new, the first time many people became familiar with the idea was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing helps to reduce the risk of spread of the novel coronavirus and is believed to be an effective tool for lowering the rates of transmission in communities. While many businesses had to close their physical workplaces during the early phases of the pandemic, some did not or were not able to, as they were considered essential. As areas began the process of reopening, social distancing in the workplace became a requirement.
Your company might need to completely rearrange its layout and its operations to accommodate social distancing and keep your team members safe. Encouraging employees to keep physical distance from others and making it as easy as possible to keep that distance is vital for workers’ and customers’ safety during the pandemic and beyond.
Read the full article or skip to a specific section:
What does social distancing mean? It means maintaining a certain amount of physical distance between yourself and others to slow down the spread of highly infectious diseases. Although one of the most common descriptions of social distancing is keeping at least 6 feet (2 meters) between yourself and other people, there are other ways to maintain social distance. Working from home, avoiding spending time in crowded areas, such as concerts or theaters, and not going out to cafes or restaurants are a few ways to practice social distancing.
There’s evidence from history that social distancing works. For example, during the 1918 influenza pandemic, many cities across the U.S. implemented social distancing measures, such as closing down churches and schools and prohibiting large gatherings of people. Experts believe cities that adopted social distancing measures early on, such as Kansas City, Milwaukee and San Francisco, were able to reduce transmission by up to 50%. The length of time that social distancing measures were in place also had an effect on the mortality rate.
Social distancing is particularly important for reducing the spread of illness when there aren’t known or effective treatments and when vaccines are not available. COVID-19 is far from the only infectious disease in the world, but it is one that doesn’t yet have an effective treatment, which makes limiting transmission particularly valuable. Although there are vaccines and treatments against the flu, and most people will recover from the common cold with ease, practicing social distancing during the cold and flu season can also be useful for slowing down the spread of those illnesses.
How Your Work Can Benefit From Social Distancing
Social distancing in the workplace offers multiple benefits to your company and your employees. For one thing, it helps to keep your team members safe and healthy. Taking steps to reduce the spread of disease means that your employees are less likely to become ill and that your company is less likely to experience an outbreak.
Encouraging or requiring social distancing in the workplace can also help people feel more at ease about coming back to work after a period of working remotely. For employees who need to interact with the public or with a large number of people each day, having social distancing measures in place can help them feel more confident about their safety. When employees feel cared for and respected on the job, they are more likely to stay with an employer.
Having a high employee retention rate saves your company time and money. It is time-consuming and expensive to hire new team members. Having a revolving door of employees is also not good for overall morale, meaning people might be less invested in their jobs and less likely to provide top-quality work or best-quality customer service if they see that their co-workers are regularly quitting.
Social distancing measures also allow your company to remain open during a pandemic. Without the appropriate social distancing efforts, your business might have to close or dramatically limit the services it offers. Encouraging your team and your customers to keep their distance means you can continue to provide your product or service for as long as possible.
7 Tips for Maintaining Social Distancing in the Workplace
Putting social distancing measures into practice can mean changing your company’s approach to operations. It can also mean rearranging the furniture and setting up new workplace guidelines to keep everyone safe. Here are a few social distancing tips to help you.
1. Stagger Shifts
It’s easier to practice social distancing when there are few people in an area at any one time. If a typical, pre-social distancing workday at your business required everyone to be in the office or building during the same hours, it can be worthwhile to introduce staggered shifts. Instead of having everyone come in from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., have one group of employees come in from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. and the next group from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. Another option is to have employees take turns working from home. Employee A can be in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while Employee B works from home. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Employee B can be in the office while Employee A works from home.
If working from home isn’t feasible for your business or if you have limited hours during which you can operate, there are other ways to stagger shifts. You can ask employees to trade off shifts. For example, if you are a restaurant that is open for takeout on weekend evenings, Employee A can work on the first and third weekends of the month while Employee B works on the second and fourth weekends.
If your company can operate long enough each day to have multiple shifts, be sure you allow time between each shift for thorough cleaning of the workplace. Along with limiting face-to-face interactions between your employees, cleaning shared spaced and high-touch surfaces is important if you want to reduce the transmission of disease.
2. Use Visual Markers and Reminders
What does 6 feet of space look like in practice? It can be challenging for people to get a sense of whether they are standing too near to another, especially if they don’t have a tape measure handy. Make it easy for your team to see what 6 feet looks like by adding visual markers to the floor or walls. You can use the markers anywhere people might need to form a line, such as outside of the restrooms or when waiting for elevators.
Visual markers are also a must-have if your business is open to the public. Retailers can use pieces of tape to help shoppers see where they should stand when they are waiting in line to pay for their items. Applying tape or decals to the floor can also help people see where to stand when they are picking out items in the store’s aisles.
In addition to visual markers, it can be helpful to hang up signs that gently remind people to practice social distancing and other measures to reduce the spread of illness. Signs on restroom doors can remind people to wash their hands before they leave the room, for instance.
Along with handwashing signs, you can hang up notices to remind people to keep their distance from their co-workers or customers. You can make the signs fun and informative. For example, grocery stores can use images that depict two shopping carts standing between two individuals to help people get a sense of what 6 feet looks like.
3. Install People Counters
In many states, reopening guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic require businesses to dramatically reduce the occupancy of their buildings or workplaces. Stores that were previously able to hold 300 people might be limited to letting in 75 or 100 people at a time. Restaurants that once had seating for 100 might only be allowed to serve 25 diners at once.
In an era when social distancing is critical, it’s vital that your business goes out of its way to keep track of the number of people who come and go. You don’t need to station a team member at the door to manually count the people enter and exit. Occupancy tracking software and people counters streamline the process for you. The software counts people as they come into the business and as they leave. It gives you a real-time view of the number of people in your building at any time. It also lets you compare the number of people in the workplace to the maximum occupancy allowed. You can then make decisions about admitting more customers, visitors or employees to the building or asking them to wait until occupancy drops.
4. Rethink In-Person Meetings
During times when social distancing is needed, avoid in-person meetings as much as possible. If your company typically holds a monthly or weekly all-hands meeting in the conference room or assembly room, consider making it a virtual meeting instead. Employees can log on to the event from their respective workspaces, either in the building or from their homes. The virtual meetings will give your company a chance to share what’s going on and to catch up with your team without putting anyone at risk.
There might be times when an in-person meeting is unavoidable. If that is the case, use extra caution when you prepare for the meeting. Limit the number of people who attend based on the size of the room it will take place in. Space the chairs in the meeting area so that they are at least 6 feet apart. Skip handshakes and other physical forms of greeting at the start and end of the meeting.
To be extra safe, you might ask everyone who needs to attend a meeting in person to wear a mask during it, especially if there will be more than two or three people in the room and especially if it will be tough to keep 6 feet of space between every participant.
Also, limit the length of any face-to-face meetings. Try to keep things under 15 minutes to reduce the risk of exposure and transmission.
5. Create Adequate Space Between Work Stations
Social distancing isn’t only for when employees might pass each other in the hallways or for customers who are browsing in your store or eating in a restaurant. Office workers also need their space. If your company has an open layout, rearrange the desks so they are at least 6 feet apart. Now is a good time to introduce partitions between work areas, such as cubicle walls. If your company’s office space is already divided into cubicles, consider raising the height of the partitions so they are taller than people. You can add plexiglass barriers to the top of the cubicle walls to extend their height.
If your company’s floor plan previously featured communal work tables, you have a few options for increasing the distance between workers who use them. Option one is to get rid of the tables entirely and to give each team member their own desk. Option two is to keep the tables, but rearrange them so that no one is within 6 feet of another person. Remove chairs and use tape to mark 6-foot areas on each table. It might also be worthwhile to set up barriers between each work area on the tables, as well. If employees are going to continue to share tables, make sure they are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.
Stores and restaurants can find ways to increase space between work areas, as well. A store that has multiple checkout areas can use every other register. Leaving one register empty between workers helps them keep their distance from each other. It also helps to protect customers, as they are not lining up too close to shoppers in the queue next to them.
Restaurants that have multiple seating areas can limit the number of areas they use at once. Limiting seating areas will most likely be necessary for restaurants that need to follow stricter occupancy rules as part of social distancing. Individual tables in each seating area should be positioned so they are the proper distance apart, based on guidelines from the local public health department.
6. Limit Use of Common Areas
Employers might need to rethink the break room if they want to follow social distancing measures. The best way to encourage social distancing at work is to close off the breakroom and ask employees to socialize over Slack or video conferencing during their break periods. If that’s not a feasible option — for example, if employees have nowhere else to take their lunch break — then the break area should be set up to encourage physical distance between workers. Seating areas should be marked off so people are always at least 6 feet away from each other. You might also install occupancy monitors at the entrance of the break room so employees can see how many people are inside and if it is safe to go in.
Stores that sell clothing might need to rethink their approach to try-ons. One option is to prohibit customers from trying on garments in-store. Encourage people to buy the items they are interested in, try them on at home and return them if they aren’t a good fit. To make the situation more convenient for people, a store can extend the return period. If a store does decide to open fitting rooms, occupancy monitoring can help limit the number of people in the area at any time. If the fitting rooms are full, shoppers can be encouraged to take a remote buzzer and to continue browsing while they wait, instead of forming a line in a small area. When a room becomes available, the buzzer will alert the shopper and they can head back over to the fitting room.
In stores and offices, elevators are another area where social distancing can be challenging. Encourage people to take the stairs if they are capable of doing so. That way, the elevators will be left free for people who need them. Social distancing inside an elevator isn’t practical, so people should take them either one at a time or with other members of their household.
7. Encourage Packed Lunches
Social distancing in the workplace should also include encouraging people to social distance outside of the workplace. One way to do that is to ask people to bring a bagged lunch with them to work, rather than going out to eat in a restaurant or using the company cafeteria. Another way to limit employees’ contact with other people is to schedule shifts so that people are home for meals, rather than in the office or workplace.
An office worker might spend the morning at work, then leave at lunchtime and work the rest of their shift remotely. Retail establishments and restaurants might decide to schedule employees for four-hour shifts or split their shifts up so there is a significant break in the middle of the day, giving them time to go home and eat.
Benefits of Installing People Counters in the Workplace
Although rearranging furniture to create more space between individuals at the workplace will help encourage social distancing, the best way to ensure that there is plenty of room between individuals is to control the number of people who are inside an area at any one time. Whether you need to practice social distancing in an office, store or restaurant, people counters eliminate the need to manually count individuals as they enter and exit.
Beyond helping with social distancing, people counters offer additional benefits to workplaces. Retail establishments can compare the data captured by the devices to the amount of sales they have in a day or week to track a correlation between the number of people who enter a store and the value of the store’s sales. Tracking the number of customers who come into a store or restaurant daily can also help those companies determine how many staff members to have on the floor at a given time.
Non-profit organizations can use the data collected by people counting devices when applying for grants and other sources of funding. The data collected can provide proof of the need or demand for a particular organization’s services. For example, a library can use the information provided by people counting software to argue for a grant to pay for a renovation or expansion or to allow the library to remain open for longer hours on certain days.
Traf-Sys Can Help Your Company Practice Social Distancing
Social distancing in the workplace involves two things: increasing physical space between employees and customers and limiting the number of people in an area at any time. The number of people who can be in your office building, store or restaurant depends in large part on the size of the space and the occupancy limits set up by your city or county.
Keeping track of how many people are inside your workplace at any time is key to social distancing. Traf-Sys offers people counters that keep track of the number of people who come into a building or designated zone and the number who leave. The counters can be installed at each entrance and exit to give you an accurate sense of how many people are in an area at any time. If your company needs to keep track of the number of individuals in a zone to make sure you are complying with occupancy requirements, people counters let you compare the number of bodies in a room or area to the maximum allowed. Using that information, you can let new people come in or ask them to wait outside until someone leaves.
If you need a way to quickly and easily keep track of the number of people in your space, take a look at our product line to see how we can help. We’re also available to answer any questions you have or to help you choose the software program and hardware that will best meet your needs. Contact us today for a free quote.
As COVID-19 continues to spread within the United States, grocery stores have been forced to make rapid operational changes to meet local and federal guidelines. While these guidelines are in place to protect the health of employees and customers, their restrictive nature brings up new challenges for grocery store owners.
Social distancing is one of the more difficult guidelines for grocery stores to follow. In the case of the novel coronavirus, grocery stores need to maintain 6 feet of distance between customers and limit the number of people allowed in the store at one time.
Foot traffic counting systems have been offering grocery store owners a way to optimize staffing, scheduling and queuing. They also offer a simple solution to help stores operate within coronavirus-related social distancing measures. In this guide, we’ll discuss how to use a grocery store customer counter to keep your store compliant with social distancing policies and procedures
Essential New Guidelines for Grocery Store Owners
Retail and food stores must first determine what guidelines they should be following. Two federal agencies are spearheading the regulatory response to COVID-19: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA is primarily concerned with the safety of products and employees involved with food preparation, while the CDC is providing guidelines for employers as a whole.
Grocery store owners and managers should become familiar with all major CDC guidelines and apply FDA guidelines where appropriate, such as at a deli counter. The National Grocers Association has compiled a list of practices to help grocery stores meet CDC guidelines, including:
Use markers: Apply tape, stickers or other signage on the floor around checkout lines to indicate where customers should stand to maintain 6 feet of distance.
Put up signs: Let customers know that social distancing is in place by putting signs at eye level in multiple places. Entrances and checkout lines are the two most important places to put up social distancing signage.
Educate customers and employees: Signage may also address proper, CDC-recommended hygiene procedures, such as washing hands for 20 seconds with soap.
Stay up-to-date: Guidelines may change often, so it’s critical to keep a line of communication open with state and local health officials to maintain compliance.
Alter hours: Consider changing store hours to promote shopping during lower traffic times, and implement regular store hours to serve specific at-risk groups, such as seniors.
Provide options: If and where possible, expand any remote shopping options. Offering delivery or curbside pickup, for example, are excellent ways to keep up sales while reducing the traffic through a store.
Reconsider food and samples: Ready-to-eat samples and self-serve food areas like soup and salad bars or buffets should be temporarily closed.
Increase sanitization: Add hand sanitizing stations to both customer and employee areas around the store, and add more mandatory cleaning and sanitization procedures to schedules. Determine high-touch areas and clean them more frequently.
Improve scheduling: Determine positions that are hardest to cover, and cross-train employees to minimize coverage issues.
Revamp leave policies: Alter and communicate policies related to sick leave and paid time off as a response to COVID-19.
These guidelines are not completely comprehensive, and there are many more details available on the CDC website. However, the list above covers the essential practices grocery stores must implement.
Some states and local governments are putting forth their own grocery store social distancing guidelines, which are more specific and stringent than federal ones. Massachusetts, for example, issued an order in April 2020 that limits grocery store customers and staff to 40% of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy level.
Additionally, the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) union is petitioning the CDC to restrict store occupancy to between 20% and 30% of the building’s full capacity.
The Benefits of People Counting Technology for Social Distancing
Complying with coronavirus-related regulations is a challenge. The larger a grocery store is, the more difficult it is to keep track of comings and goings in the building. A grocery store people counting system is an easy, intuitive way to make sure your business does not exceed grocery store capacity limits while social distancing guidelines are in place. Let’s take a look at five key ways foot traffic counters can benefit your store:
1. Determine Occupancy at a Glance
Counting heads in a grocery store can quickly become an overwhelming prospect if you try to do it manually. If you have multiple entrances, you will need to shut all but one down because it’s impossible for two employees doing two different counts at two different doors to sync their counts up without a real-time system in place.
People counting systems update automatically each time a person enters and leaves the store, so the numbers are always current, and there is no element of mystery or uncertainty in the counting process.
2. Find Out Where People Cluster
Promoting social distancing may mean rearranging some parts of the store to prevent people from clustering together. People counters, especially those with directional capabilities that indicate whether customers are coming in or going out, can help managers make decisions about temporary layout changes.
For example, if the customer counter shows high traffic and employees notice that a good deal of that traffic ends up clustering around one particular area, you can investigate possible reasons why. Is the display overly large and causing a bottleneck due to people trying to navigate in opposite directions around it? Is it located near a checkout line, causing people who want the item to get too close to customers waiting in line? Traffic monitors can provide excellent opportunities for innovation in this area.
3. Discover Peak Traffic Times
Knowing when traffic peaks occur is important because it allows management to adjust procedures to increase safety. Cleaning routines are a good example. A store should have robust cleaning measures in place at all times, but a spike in traffic provides a compelling reason to add extra cleaning duties into employee schedules. However, you don’t want to have employees spending too much time cleaning when it’s not necessary.
With a foot traffic counter, management can set thresholds for the number of customers after which an extra cleaning needs to take place. For example, a store may have implemented a policy of wiping down freezer door handles every hour, assuming a customer turnover of 100 per hour. To better protect everyone’s safety, management may decide that if customers exceed 150 per hour, cleaning needs to happen every 30 minutes. A customer counting system makes this type of adjustment possible.
4. Coordinate Effective Scheduling
Scheduling employees is always one of the challenges of operating a successful grocery store. Management has to ensure there is enough coverage to meet customer needs and greater demands for cleaning and sanitization. On the other hand, paying more employees than necessary is never a good business practice from a financial perspective.
Under normal circumstances, most grocers quickly pin down when traffic is highest and lowest, and the approximate buying habits of their customer base. The emergence of COVID-19 has upended customer habits significantly, from when they come into the store to the amount they spend. For example, even though foot traffic in stores is down, shoppers are spending 15% to 20% more on groceries.
Foot traffic counters provide information that allows management to make the most efficient staffing decisions under new and changing circumstances, with much greater accuracy than relying on general observations.
5. Improve Customer Experience
From the customer’s point of view, the coronavirus outbreak has made grocery shopping a far less pleasant experience. Having to follow the 6-foot rule means many grocery stores are having to stop customers at the door and have them form a line to wait until the store is under its modified capacity. Even then, customers at stores that aren’t well-prepared are facing long lines due to understaffing.
Grocery store people counting systems offer a customer-facing dashboard that shows the current capacity in terms of the upper occupancy limit and the percentage of capacity the store is at currently. When they can see traffic changes in real-time, customers tend to feel less stressed and uncertain while waiting to enter a store. Additionally, stores with people counters have the tools to staff appropriately. That means customers can feel safe knowing the store has enough staff to clean properly as well as keep checkout line lengths from becoming frustratingly long.
Steps Grocery Owners Can Take to Follow New Guidelines
Staying within COVID-19 guidelines is a multi-step process. It takes planning to stay prepared, so consider these tips for staying compliant:
1. Become Familiar With Local Regulations
Although the CDC and FDA are providing guidelines on a national level, the restrictions on grocery stores may be more stringent at a local level. Grocery store owners and managers need to stay up-to-date with guidelines that change frequently and be aware of what practices are simply guidelines as opposed to formal orders with potential legal consequences.
Sign up for alerts from your state and local health departments to ensure your store can pivot to new policies or procedures as quickly as possible when necessary.
2. Educate Employees
As employees are the ones who will be carrying out social distancing and prevention measures, it’s essential to provide thorough training on the store’s new policies. Education efforts should be done in person, where possible, and duplicated in written form to ensure better retention. Employees need to know about:
Cleaning and disinfection
Cloth face coverings
Use of personal protection equipment (PPE)
COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if sick
Consider compiling a list of resources for employees, such as information on hand-washing and new cleaning policies, and place it in a high-visibility area. Ultimately, management is responsible for ensuring employees understand and follow the new guidelines.
3. Increase Sanitization Stations
One aspect of social distancing is making an effort to reduce the transfer of the virus from person to person through increased sanitation. Both employees and customers should have increased access to sanitization stations, such as hand washing areas or hand sanitizer dispensers.
It’s a good idea to place these stations at entrances, as well as near high-traffic and high-touch areas. A people counting system with dwell technology can help you find out where people spend more idle time, allowing you to pinpoint the best locations for additional stations.
4. Increase Cleaning Frequency
One of the critical steps in following CDC cleaning guidelines is to increase the frequency of cleaning and ensure employees are using products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Stores should undergo a thorough cleaning at least once every 24 hours, and disinfecting procedures should see these surfaces sanitized more frequently:
Credit card terminals
Shopping carts and baskets
The CDC’s framework for cleaning and sanitizing is based on three practices:
Routine cleaning using soap and water.
Disinfection with EPA-approved products, including ready-to-use sprays, wipes and concentrates.
Use of other types of disinfectants, such as bleach and water mixtures or 70% alcohol solutions when EPA-approved products are not available.
5. Request PPE
Personal protective equipment is still hard to come by, even for essential businesses. The National Grocers Association suggests requesting face masks from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through their online form as one way to increase the PPE available to employees.
6. Start Counting Customers
Knowing the number of people in a grocery store is no longer an option in many places. To limit grocery store capacity levels, you first need to know how many people are inside the building. Installing a people counter is quick, easy and provides a simple way to keep tabs on store occupancy without assigning employees to do potentially inaccurate headcounts.
7. Change Store Layout
One of the challenges with social distancing in grocery stores is the two-way nature of aisles. When two people are headed down the same aisle in opposite directions, there’s little opportunity to avoid a direct exchange of droplets. Many large grocery chains are implementing one-way aisles as well as designating in-only and out-only doors to help prevent customers from coming into close contact with each other.
8. Hire More People
The possibility that employees may contract COVID-19 increases the chances of having multiple call-outs and extended absences due to illness. Additionally, the extra burden of increased cleaning practices takes employees away from time on the floor and at the cash register. Hiring more people and training them in multiple areas is the best way to maximize shift coverage. This helps ensure swift movement of checkout lines as well as the proper execution of new cleaning policies.
9. Invest in Signage
Grocery stores have a responsibility to help customers implement social distancing. In addition to using a foot traffic counter to maintain safe occupancy levels, stores can provide visual reminders via various types of signage. Examples include:
Signs outside the store indicating entrances and exits.
Signs highlighting available sanitization tools like hand sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes for carts or baskets.
Floor decals marking 6-foot intervals at checkout lines.
Floor decals indicating one-way aisles.
Reminders to wash hands outside of restrooms.
A little bit of prompting can go a long way in promoting social distancing in your store.
How Can I Improve the Checkout Process With COVID-19 Guidelines?
The best way to ensure customers remain happy during the checkout process is to provide adequate staffing and multiple options. For example, customers who only have a basket of items don’t want to wait behind people stocking up with a full cart, so having at least one express lane and a self-checkout option can get these people out the door faster.
How Can I Encourage Employees to Maintain Safe Practices?
Be sure to give your employees the tools needed to succeed within new guidelines. Workers who have enough time and adequate supplies to adhere to cleaning schedules are more likely to do so effectively. Likewise, employees who are given the right PPE are more likely to wear it. Ensure you’re getting the right scheduling coverage and supplies. It shows you care and facilitates better adherence.
How Can My Store Ensure Customers Follow Social Distancing Guidelines?
Customers are often unpredictable and sometimes resistant to new guidelines. While you can’t force them to do the right thing, showing that your store is committed to following regulations is a good way to lead by example. When customers see employees wearing PPE and cleaning regularly, combined with high-visibility signage and even auditory reminders of policies in place, they are more likely to comply with new grocery store social distancing guidelines.
How Do People Counters Work?
There are four important distinctions to make when discussing how people counters work:
Overhead vs. horizontal: Foot traffic sensors can either be mounted in the ceiling or on both sides of a doorway.
Wired vs. wireless: Overhead counters need to be wired into a network, whereas horizontal counters can be powered by batteries. Some systems can use either form of power.
Bi-directional vs. uni-directional: A bi-directional system indicates whether a person is walking in or out, while a uni-directional system does not distinguish between in or out counts.
Beam vs. video vs. thermal: People counting systems can use infrared beams, advanced 3D video or highly accurate thermal imaging to provide data.
How Do I Determine Which Store Traffic Counters Work Best for My Store?
There are several variables that can affect what type of people counting system is ideal for your grocery store. They include:
The size of the store
The number of entrances
The type and size of the entrance
Power availability at the entrance
The number of features you want
What Stores Are Using People Counters?
The majority of major grocery chains are changing the industry with the use of foot traffic counters. The Aldi customer counter and Giant grocery store foot traffic counter, for example, are allowing these stores to maintain accurate customer counts for their new limits. Aldi uses their system to limit customers to around five per 1,000 square feet, while Giant Food stores use theirs to reduce capacity to 20%.
Find the Right People Counter for Your Grocery Store With Traf-Sys
The novel coronavirus has already changed the way grocery stores do business and serve their customers, and there is no telling whether those changes will be permanent. As social distancing guidelines continue to evolve in response to new data, it’s a good idea to stay prepared for even further restricted occupancy with a people counting system.
A grocery store foot traffic counter will enable your store to meet stringent guidelines, and it will act as a data collection tool that can streamline the way you staff and provide insight on customer behavior. Even after the coronavirus crisis has passed, a grocery store people counting system will continue to provide value to your business.
Traf-Sys offers multiple people counting sensors and systems that fit the needs of your store and budget. Our basic systems offer everything you need to comply with occupancy requirements, while others offer an astonishing level of detail, such as being able to distinguish between children and adults for greater analytic insight. No matter what your needs are, Traf-Sys is ready to help.
Fill out our online form to get a quote within one business day, and start on the road to implementing full social distancing requirements.
If your business has shut down since the start of the current health crisis, you’re probably hoping to get back to work as soon as it’s safe. Now, as restrictions are lifted, many businesses can finally reopen. However, due to current reopening guidelines, your store or restaurant will need to operate differently than it once did.
This guide on how to keep the workplace safe from coronavirus can help you open for business safely under the current regulations.
Understanding New Guidelines
All nonessential businesses have adjusted their operations since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, as states begin to ease restrictions, many companies are starting to reopen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers recommendations for small businesses and the most up-to-date information about the disease.
While each state will develop a unique reopening strategy, the Federal Government’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again breaks down reopening guidelines into three phases. Here’s how each stage applies to retail stores and restaurants:
Before entering Phase One, a state should meet specific criteria. Your state should have a downward trajectory of influenza and COVID-like illnesses, as well as documented cases reported for 14 days. Hospitals must have the capacity to operate without crisis care and have a robust testing program for healthcare workers.
When all these criteria are met, businesses can begin operation under Phase One guidelines, unless otherwise determined by the state government:
Return to work in phases when possible.
Enforce social distancing for staff.
Cut down on nonessential travel.
Consider special accommodations for high-risk employees.
Sit-down restaurants and other large venues can operate with strict social distancing measures.
Bars should remain closed.
If a state has no evidence of a rebound and meets all criteria for Phase One a second time, employers can operate under Phase Two:
Continue to enforce social distancing for staff.
Consider special accommodations for high-risk employees.
Sit-down restaurants and other large venues can operate under moderate social distancing rules.
Bars may reopen with reduced standing-room capacity.
If the state doesn’t have a rebound and can satisfy the gating criteria for another 14 days, it may enter Phase Three:
All staffing may resume as normal without restrictions.
Sit-down restaurants and other large venues can operate with limited social distancing measures.
Bars may increase their standing-room capacity.
Each state will have its own strategy for reopening, so your business may be subject to more regulations. In general, you should expect to keep staff and customers at least 6 feet apart, disinfect surfaces and ensure employees wash their hands often.
How to Reopen Your Business With the New Guidelines
New guidelines call for careful procedures for social distancing and disinfection. Follow these steps to ensure you follow all new regulations and create a safe working and shopping environment:
1. Follow the Latest Federal, State and Local Guidelines
As you assess your reopening plans, look to any federal, state and local guidelines. If you do not meet state requirements for reopening, you should not reopen. The CDC has specific recommendations for essential grocery and retail workers that can guide your operation efforts. You can also review the CDC’s restaurant and bar decision tree to decide if your business is ready to reopen.
These rules dictate measures to keep people apart. You’ll likely have to limit your capacity, which requires an accurate headcount. People-counting technology gives you a live count of those who have entered and exited the building without putting your employees in harm’s way. This information lets you know when to stop allowing new patrons to keep your capacity in check.
You may also want to use floor markers to guide people waiting to enter the building or to use the register.
4. Create a Schedule and Procedure for Disinfecting
Many essential retailers have limited hours to make time for frequent disinfecting. As they begin to reopen, other retailers and restaurants should expect to do the same.
Clean all surfaces and objects with soap and water. Soap and water remove germs and dirt from surfaces, lowering the risk of spreading any viruses. Areas that are not frequently touched will only need soap and water.
If no disinfectants are available, you can mix your own. Two approved homemade disinfectants are a mixture of 1/3 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water or a solution of 70% alcohol.
While there are no specific rules on how often to disinfect, it’s crucial to do so regularly. Always clean visibly dirty areas and disinfect as often as makes sense for your business. A people counting sensor can let you know how many people have visited your store since the last cleaning to help you decide if it’s the right time to disinfect again.
5. Focus on Contactless Service
Many retailers and restaurants are using new methods to continue serving customers with limited contact. Some stores and restaurants use delivery and curbside pickup to limit contact. These methods allow you to keep capacities low within your store and continue to serve many customers. Also, touchless or online payment can reduce touchpoints between customers and staff.
6. Obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Employees
Whenever possible, PPE can help your employees and customers stay safe. If it’s not feasible to provide masks to employees, encourage staff to wear cloth masks. Be sure to provide hand sanitizer and keep the bathrooms stocked with soap. The CDC recommends wearing gloves when using disinfectants, so it is vital to keep these in stock.
7. Train Employees to Follow and Enforce Health and Safety Protocols
As you reopen your business, your employees will have to take on new duties, such as disinfecting surfaces and enforcing social distancing. As new tasks become necessary, make sure your staff understands new rules and expectations and is equipped to follow them. Also, consider automating your capacity counting with a people counter to alleviate staff from the added workloads.
8. Use Ongoing Monitoring to Protect Staff and Employees
The CDC recommends sending employees home if they exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19, and that employees should stay home when they feel ill. So, you should develop procedures to check for symptoms in employees as they report for work. Some stores check customer’s temperatures using no-touch thermometers before they enter the establishment. If you can’t check temperatures for your employees, have them check their temperatures themselves before coming in for work. Decide what is possible and what makes you and your employees most comfortable.
9. Decide How to Rehire Furloughed Staff
If your business had to furlough staff to cope with closures and loss of business, it might be challenging to decide when and who to rehire. The essential team members might look different from company to company. As you first reopen, you may not see your normal flow of customers return immediately, so you may not be able to rehire all your staff. Decide who is necessary and how many people you can afford to pay as you reopen your doors.
If you cannot hire back everyone, consider allowing those with higher risks to stay home and hire back the ones who feel ready to return.
10. Communicate With Staff and Customers About Their Concerns
Even after following all the necessary guidelines, you may have to do more to get your business up and running. Staff may be fearful about returning to work, and customers may be worried about venturing out for nonessential services. It’s crucial to communicate with your team and work with them to make sure they feel safe returning to work. For customers, highlight the precautions your business is taking and ask if there is anything you can do to make them feel safer.
How to Prepare Employees to Maintain Safe Guidelines
As an employer, you need to support and train your employees to protect themselves, each other and your customers. Here’s what you can do to prepare your employees for a return to work:
1. Provide Training
With all the new guidelines to keep workplaces and customers safe from coronavirus, it’s crucial to ensure everyone is following them. Employees should receive training as appropriate on:
How to launder work clothing at home.
How and when to wash hands.
How and when to use gloves.
How to wear a respirator.
How to enforce capacity and social distancing rules.
How to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as shopping carts, the kitchen, ATMs, cash registers, tables and restrooms.
2. Reinforce Proper Hygiene
When handling food items as you would in a restaurant or grocery store, you need to follow hand-washing guidelines. Employees should wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds often, especially before eating and after sneezing, coughing, blowing their noses or going to the bathroom.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has more personal hygiene guidelines for food service workers. They recommend employees use gloves to avoid direct contact with ready-to-eat foods. Your staff should also wash their hands before preparing food.
As an employer, you can reinforce these behaviors through frequent reminders, informational posters in the bathrooms and by providing access to gloves and soap. Place hand sanitizing stations throughout your store or restaurant to help employees stay sanitary between hand washings.
3. Provide Flexible Sick Leave
Another way to support employees is by offering flexible sick leave. The CDC recommends employees stay home when they feel sick to prevent the spread of germs to other employees and customers. To accommodate that, employers should be flexible with sick leave and understand an employee might need to take more sick time.
4. Limit Business Travel
If you have employees who split their time between several locations or who frequently travel to meet with suppliers, consider limiting this travel. Keep employees at a single site and, whenever possible, hold virtual meetings.
People with underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung disease, asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and liver disease.
People who are immunocompromised.
People with severe obesity.
If you employ individuals who have a higher risk of severe illness, develop a plan to help them avoid contact with customers and fellow employees. If at all possible, allow these employees to take their work behind the scenes or to telecommute.
Tools and Supplies to Help Businesses Reopen
What do you need before you can reopen? Supplies and technology can vary depending on your business, so you should review this list to see what tools might be helpful.
People Counting Technology
With social distancing rules lowering building capacity for many businesses, a reliable way to know how many people are in your store or restaurant is to use an occupancy counter. The technology, which can be either infrared, video or thermal-based, senses when people enter or exit your building to give you an accurate headcount. You can then safely enforce lowered capacity requirements. A people counter helps you meet coronavirus guidelines, with high-precision real-time reporting on combined IN and OUT data from unlimited entry points. A customer-facing display can also provide your customers with helpful information about the current occupancy levels before entering. We developed the SafeEntry system to meet the demands of the current COVID-19 crisis. It displays the number of patrons that are “safe to admit” at any time, lets you set your own capacity limits and uses no additional hardware.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment can take different forms for different businesses. They often include disposable masks and gloves for employees. If you can provide these accommodations to your employees, hold training on how to wear them. If your employees wear cloth face coverings, provide support and directions for how to wash them. They should be washed and dried at the highest temperature settings after every use.
In a retail setting, you can also consider using plexiglass partitions at registers.
Health Monitoring Tools
Non-contact infrared thermometers or thermal cameras can be used to check employee and customers’ temperatures upon arrival. If your business can afford to use temperature monitoring, it can go a long way in preventing sick people from visiting your store.
The EPA has a list of disinfectants approved for use against SARS-CoV-2 and other viral pathogens. Look for disinfectants from this list first. You can mix your own disinfectant with either 1/3 cup of bleach and 1 gallon of water or 70% alcohol if you cannot find any. If you need to disinfect a soft, porous material such as carpet or upholstered seating, you’ll need a specific disinfectant for these materials.
Besides disinfectants, you should have gloves, soap and water for cleaning surfaces throughout your business.
Personal Hygiene Supplies
You should try to set up hand sanitizing stations for both customers and employees, especially at cash registers or where people come in contact with one another. They should also be set up near where employees handle food or merchandise. Also, be sure the restrooms are well-stocked with soap and paper towels, so employees and customers can wash their hands. Other personal hygiene supplies include tissues and no-touch trash cans.
You might consider posting signage around your business to remind customers and employees to keep an appropriate distance and wash their hands often. You can also mark the floor with tape to keep tables and people at least 6 feet apart.
The Benefits of People Counting Systems for Social Distancing
With social distancing becoming the new normal for the foreseeable future, your store needs live occupancy counting to keep up. As your employees learn new procedures and you take on new responsibilities to keep customers safe, automated people counting offers many advantages.
Monitor Your Occupancy With Real-Time Data
With new restrictions placing maximum occupancy limits at a fraction of what they usually are, it doesn’t take many people for your building to reach its maximum occupancy. To maximize the number of people you can serve without violating rules, up-to-the-minute data about how many visitors you have is crucial. SafeEntry from Traf-Sys offers a real-time count that any of your employees can access via phone, tablet or computer.
If your store has multiple entrances, IN and OUT foot traffic is instantly updated for all employees without any additional coordination. Employees can update the occupancy limit at any time, allowing you to adjust as restrictions do. If you’re reserving certain hours for high-risk visitors, you can lower your occupancy limit during this time for added protection.
Distribute Your Staff More Effectively
Counting people by hand puts your team is closer proximity with more of your customers, which can make your employees feel unsafe. It also requires at least two people per door if one person counts those who enter and another counts those who leave. With the coronavirus placing additional duties, such as disinfecting, on your staff’s docket, you might not have the capacity to divert many of your employees to counting customers. People counting sensors automate this task, allowing you to send your staff where they are needed most.
Let Your Customers Make Informed Decisions
Some of your customers may want to avoid shopping during peak times. However, with people working fewer or more flexible hours, daily rushes can be more unpredictable than they have been in the past. If you use a monitor to display a current occupancy count for customers, people can decide for themselves whether it is safe to enter. Your customers will appreciate knowing your business is doing one more thing to keep them safe. You may even see your crowds self-regulate, with more people choosing to come back another time.
Inform Your Sanitation Schedule
Knowing how many people visit your establishment on a given day can help you adjust your cleaning and disinfecting decisions. You might decide you want to clean your building after a certain number of people have entered or by looking at occupancy data over time.
For example, say your people counter registers a regular peak in visitors between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., and a lull at 3 p.m. You can use this information to close at 3 p.m. for routine cleaning then reopen before your evening rush. With data-backed decision making, you can maintain cleanliness without sacrificing business.
FAQs About Social Distancing, Health and Safety for Small Businesses
Keeping the workplace safe in the age of coronavirus can be a challenge. It’s new territory for every business owner, and that leaves many questions about how to stay safe.
How Can We Bring in New Customers With Social Distancing Guidelines?
With many companies following new rules and seeing fewer customers than usual, it can be challenging to bring in new business. Here are a few things your business can try to attract new customers:
Offer options for limited and no-contact service. Click and collect, takeout, delivery or drive-thru services give customers more options and let you keep occupancy low.
Give customers the option to buy gift certificates online to support your business.
Advertise your health and safety precautions, so customers know it is safe to visit.
Go above and beyond your legal requirements to create a safe working, shopping or eating environment.
Talk to both employees and customers about the things they want to see your business doing to promote safety for all.
How Should We Disinfect Products?
Currently, the CDC does not recommend that shoppers or stores disinfect food products. There’s no evidence that food packaging plays a significant role in spreading COVID-19 in the U.S. When it comes to stores, the more crucial areas to disinfect include shopping carts, self-checkout lanes, cash registers and restrooms.
Have employees wash their hands before stocking items and discourage shoppers from touching products they don’t intend to buy. For other types of merchandise, such as clothes, some stores are using a 72-hour “quarantine” for returned items.
Discontinue operations requiring customers to use common utensils or dispensers, such as salad bars, buffets and beverage dispensers.
Verify that ware-washing machines are using the required wash and rinse temperatures, detergents and sanitizers.
Ensure food reaches the proper internal temperature before serving.
When storing hot foods for later use, be sure to cool them rapidly.
Minimize storing or displaying food between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Introduce new training for any new cooking or preparation procedures.
What Should We Do in the Event of a Confirmed or Suspected Case?
If an employee comes to work with COVID-19 symptoms, immediately separate the staff member from other employees and send them home.
According to the CDC, if an employee has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, you probably do not need to shut down the entire facility. However, you should close off any areas used for a prolonged period by the sick person. Wait at least 24 hours or as long as possible before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize the risk of exposure to respiratory droplets. During the waiting period, increase air circulation to the contaminated area by opening outside doors and windows.
Follow all CDC guidelines to disinfect the area. Determine which employees may have been exposed to the virus and decide what precautions those individuals should take. If the employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, employers should inform employees of possible exposure without violating workplace confidentiality.
Learn More About People Counting Systems From Traf-Sys
People counting technology can help if you need a way to limit capacity in your retail store or restaurant. We offer a wide range of people counting sensors that allow you to access real-time data on the number of people in your store without the need for an employee at the door. Our systems offer 95% accuracy and above, with detection zones up to 80 feet wide.
We offer a variety of tools to help you regulate the capacity of your store. Customer-facing screens inform visitors whether they can enter and allow each customer to make an informed decision before entering your establishment. The technology reduces the workload for your essential workers and shows customers you care about their safety.