Retail Technology and the Importance of People Counting

people countingThe way we shop is constantly evolving. You may not realize it, but retailers are always looking for ways to draw in new shoppers, retain their customer base and boost their bottom line.

Through the years, we’ve seen retail technology change and shape the way we purchase everything from cars to groceries to clothing. Cash registers were introduced for the first time in the 1800s and credit cards made their debut in the 1940s. The barcode, which most of us pay little attention to, was first used in the 1970s to help automate the checkout in grocery stores and the technology was so successful it spread to nearly every other facet of retail. The 1990s ushered in the era of online shopping and in the last decade, we’ve seen e-commerce boom and give rise to the omni-channel experience.

One of the most important systems to evolve with the times is people counting technology. According to a blog posted by the Control Group, people counting technology was born in 1970 when a Canadian engineer outfitted a large box the size of a refrigerator with an infrared beam that would count every time someone walked across it.  In the last 44 years, people counting has advanced from a rudimentary way to count people who walked across a beam to a sophisticated system of analytics that helps retailers better understand consumer behavior.

People counting technology is an increasingly valuable tool for retailers looking to test different marketing strategies, identify showrooming risks and maximize revenue. Today’s people counters come in different designs that take into consideration a store’s physical factors.

Horizontal Counters

  • Least expensive, but also less accurate
  • Only recommended for entrances up to 15 feet wide—and only if you don’t have a high-density entryway

Directional Counters

  • Count people as they enter and leave the store
  • Tell you how many people have entered the store
  • Bi-directional sensors can provide hourly customer counts and can help you gauge a customer’s intentions
  • Directional counters can not only reveal what time people are coming to the store and what days are the busiest, but if sensors are placed within the store,  what shoppers’ habits are when they come to the store.

Overhead Counters

  • Most accurate type of customer counter
  • Installed in the ceiling and look down at the people walking through the entrance, so no one can be blocked from the sensor’s view

Depending on the type of counter you choose, retailers can determine what someone’s intentions are when they come to the store, if they are simply browsing or if they have a goal and leave with a purchase.

People counting technology can also help test different marketing strategies. If a retailer issues a coupon or special promotion and there is an increase in foot traffic during this period, it’s an indicator that the promotion was effective in drawing people to the store.

Perhaps  in the future, people counting technology may include counting capabilities that work with RFID chips to determine what products caught someone’s eye – if they handled the merchandise – and compare that with what they eventually purchase. This data will be able to be analyzed to help enhance the in-store experience.