People Counter Systems - What, When, Why?

Blog post author
Ross Malpass
May 18, 2021


Business needs and goals are constantly changing. In today’s pandemic spurred retail environment, knowing how many people are in a retail store at any given time is very important for the health and safety of your customers and employees. Measuring people who go in and out of any retail space is also critical to analyze patterns and assess growth. Counting the number of patrons in a particular location can also provide necessary information to ensure your area is secure as well.

Rather than having someone physically standing at your doorway, it is often much more cost-effective to use a people counter system. Many systems are barely noticeable for guests, making them much less intrusive than an employee greeter with the role of people counter.

People counter system technology has developed significantly in recent years. Now, there are several types of systems that offer various benefits.

The Importance of People Counters in Retail Space

Although people counting systems have a variety of other benefits, COVID-19 has really brought them to the forefront recently. Some of the most recent surveys indicate that customers are feeling better about returning to stores compared to the same time last year. However, ensuring you are following safety guidelines and capacity limitation is arguably more important today than ever before.

People counting systems make it easy to ensure that your space does not impede the recommended capacity at any given time.

Additional benefits of using these systems often include:

  • Improving customer service. You can get a better idea of where people are gathering in your store with a people counting system. This information will help you optimize your store’s layout to fit the needs and desires of your shoppers.
  • Measure and improve marketing efforts. Foot traffic, in general, is helpful to measure after you start a new advertising campaign. Additionally, people counting systems also help you review the effectiveness of internal marketing, such as interactive retail displays and kiosks.
  • Realize visitor trends. Knowing the time of day or days of the week that you get the most visitors can be invaluable information for marketing and staffing.
  • Decrease waiting time. Reviewing where your customers are lining up and how long they are waiting in an area can help you determine where and when you should implement a queue management system to help address wait times. This type of information, when used properly, can significantly improve customer experience.

For many companies, the health and safety benefits of people counters are enough to make the investment in this type of system. However, they also have marketing, customer service, and other related benefits that cannot be ignored as well.

The Top People Counter Systems in Retail

CCTV & Stereo Vision: Optical People Counters

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) is still used as a people counter today. However, it has more of a general security function instead of a people counting function. It can still be used this way if necessary, but there is no “automatic” mechanism to count people in a given space without reviewing live feed or prior footage.

Instead of using CCTV alone, you can incorporate stereo vision and other visual optics to automatically run through facial recognition and object deduction. While this technology is much more expensive compared to CCTV, it is also much more effective in counting people and providing in-depth data to review.

Stereo people counters will provide data in real-time. It can even exclude certain individuals from a count in some cases. For example, if you want to only measure how many school-aged children are present at a given time, you can set it to measure only those below a certain height.

Thermal People Counters

These people counters are often fixed to the ceiling above a location where you want to perform a count. Because they are the size of a home router, they are not very noticeable, while also providing extensive data about a certain area. You can also link several cameras together to create a wider zone of measurement.

The advantage of these counters is that they do not need light to work. They are great for heavy traffic areas.

In some cases, discerning the difference between an object and a person can be difficult using thermal people counters. However, new technology (Time of Flight) has evolved to be much more accurate today than they have been in the past.

Mono People Counter

A mono people counter is similar to stereo technology, but it is slightly less advanced. It has the same general features, but it will not be able to filter out some data. It uses just one lens, making it a cost-effective people counter.

There are some concerns about data credibility for these types of systems. To get the best accuracy, it will need to be placed in a location with lower foot traffic and good, consistent lighting.

Other Notable People Counter Systems

Wifi People Counters: Signal Tracking

Most people use a smartphone today. When the wifi on a smartphone is turned on, that wifi signal sends out a MAC address. Routers can pick up that information and track how many wifi-enabled devices are in a given location.

While the technology is new and exciting, it has some drawbacks. Specifically, not everyone will carry a smartphone. If they do, their wifi may not be turned on, which means that they are not tracked using this particular method at all. Position accuracy is also not very good compared to other types of people counters.

IR (Infrared) People Counters

In general, this type of people counter creates a barrier between two spaces, and someone is counted as they walk through a particular area, often without them knowing.

Infrared people counters are a lower-cost technology, and their effectiveness varies a great deal by brand, style, and model. They often require more general maintenance and management compared to other types of people counters.

What to Look for When Choosing a People Counter System

For some businesses, the cost of implementing a people counter system can be intimidating. However, the information that you gain from an effective system can be invaluable. It can help you keep customers safe and help them be more confident in returning to stores.

Some of the important factors that you should consider when choosing a system include:

  • Cost
  • Accuracy and overall data reliability
  • Traffic where the people counter will be placed
  • Whether real-time data will be available (and whether that fast data processing is important to you)
  • Need for ongoing maintenance or upgrades

Each people counter system will vary slightly in these areas. You may want to start the purchase process by considering where the people counter will be placed, what type of information you want to gather, and how that data will be used.

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