Holiday shoppers are likely to see a season that looks noticeably different than a year ago, specifically given the return of big parties with family and friends, bustling shopping centers, trips to see Santa Claus, and even warm-weather getaways. With 60% of Americans already vaccinated against COVID-19, many are enjoying a return to holiday traditions.
In fact, forecasters anticipate a significant return to in-store shopping this holiday season, with 51% of consumers saying they are comfortable visiting retail destinations this year. However, many also report that they want to know that their in-store experience will be safe.
Following nearly two years of anxieties surrounding COVID-19, they want to ensure they do not get sick. To offer comfort and security, retailers are relying on people counters and complementary tools to keep occupancy levels down.
What Do People Counters Do?
A people counter presents a way for retailers to tally the number of people entering a space using sensors specifically designed for that purpose. In the past, counting was done manually by store employees. Today, it can be done automatically by utilizing one of the many options available on the market.
For example, the Ombori People Counter is part of a broader suite of products designed to assist retailers in managing occupancy during the holidays and beyond. It tracks foot traffic in real-time to help stores meet occupancy regulations and managers make data-driven decisions that can improve operational practices. When combined with other Ombori apps, such as Queue Management, Digital Signage, and Occupancy Control, People Counter offers retailers a full-featured customer management solution.
The Ombori People Counter uses cameras placed at critical points within a store (e.g., entrances, promotional displays, checkout lanes, etc.) to count people over time. This data is then transmitted to an analytics platform for examination.
Managers can use the reports generated from the analysis to make critical business decisions. These systems provide insights into the number of people entering a designated area of the store, the occupancy of a location during a specific timeframe (e.g., Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas Eve, etc.), and the number of sales transactions completed compared to the occupancy rate.
Types of People Counters
People-counting technology comes in many shapes and sizes, offering solutions that can be adapted for different budgets, entrance configurations, and building layouts, as well as required accuracy levels and analytical capabilities. Here are some of the more popular types of people counters.
- CCTV and Stereo Vision: Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras record how many people pass through an area. The addition of stereo vision and other visual optics also allows for facial recognition and object detection.
- Thermal: Thermal counters use heat-sensitive sensors and embedded technology to tally the number of people in an area by noting changes in body temperature compared to the surrounding environment.
- Mono: Mono technology uses a single camera lens for counting people. It can remove static backgrounds and track only moving objects. It works best in low-traffic areas where the lighting is bright and consistent.
- Wi-Fi: Individual mobile phones can be used with Wi-Fi tracking to detect people’s presence in a store. However, if people are not carrying a device, if they have multiple devices, or if their device is turned off, the counts can be inaccurate.
- Infrared: These counters use a horizontal infrared (IR) beam directed across an entrance to count people whenever the beam is broken. Unfortunately, they can’t detect multiple people entering a space or distinguish between a person entering and leaving.
Benefits of the Ombori People Counter
Ombori People Counter offers a variety of benefits for customers, employees, and business owners, especially during the busy holiday shopping season.
- Ensured safety: Although many of the measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 have been lifted, shoppers are still anxious about returning to stores and tend to patronize brands that continue to follow safety guidelines and capacity recommendations. Retailers can use people-counting technology to monitor foot traffic and notify customers when occupancy limits are close to being reached.
- Restocked shelves: Supply chain issues and labor shortages threaten to spoil a potentially record-breaking holiday for retailers. However, businesses that utilize people-counting technology can better anticipate customer volume and restock store shelves accordingly. Efficient stocking procedures ensure merchandise is always available for purchase.
- Decreased congestion: During the pandemic, shoppers grew accustomed to reduced traffic in stores and continue to expect it during the recovery period. Using people-counting technology to understand peak times of business can help retailers decrease in-store congestion. When used with BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store) technology, customers can avoid entering the store altogether.
- Reduced queues: In addition to decreasing congestion, business owners can use data about peak traffic times to address long queues and extended wait times. By keeping checkout lanes staffed during expected rushes, retailers are better prepared to serve an influx of customers while shoppers enjoy shorter lines and reduced wait times.
- Enhanced customer experience: Data gathered by people counters and other technology allows retailers to gain greater insights into customers’ age, gender, product preferences, and past purchase behavior. Analyzing this data allows retailers to personalize the customer experience by optimizing and tweaking how shoppers interact, use, and move through the store.
For Employees and Business Owners
- Improved staffing: People counter data can give managers a better idea of how their store is performing, allowing them to ensure proper staffing during peak periods. When enough associates are available to assist customers, lost sales opportunities are significantly reduced. Also, additional checkout counters can be opened to process customers faster and prevent queues, thereby reducing cart abandonment.
- Better customer service: Using a people counter, retailers can track customer behavior and use the data to improve service. With detailed traffic information by day, week, or year, retailers can easily align staffing schedules to ensure just the right number of available sales associates. Additionally, data can help retailers identify locations in the store where shoppers need the most engagement.
- Enhanced preparation: Typically, it takes eight months or more for businesses to plan and execute the two-month sprint during the holiday shopping season. Using historical data, retailers can plan ahead by knowing when and where holiday promotions work best, where to place popular items, and when to expect the most foot traffic.
- Tailored marketing: Business owners can use people counters to measure the success of marketing efforts. Following the launch of a campaign, they can monitor how many people passed the store without going in and how many visitors made purchases. They can then tweak the campaign accordingly. This same technology can measure the effectiveness of in-store displays and signage.
- Boosted conversion rates: Data from people counters reveals how many people visited a store, and checkout data indicates how many sales were completed. By comparing these numbers, business owners can see how many visitors end up buying something and how many sales opportunities are lost and look for more effective ways to drive conversion rates.
Ombori Technology Improves the Shopping Experience
While retailers can track foot traffic using Ombori People Counter, they can create a full-range customer management solution by combining it with other products.
This holiday season, stores can better prepare for returning shoppers by using People Counter in conjunction with Ombori Queue Management. This tool provides an easy way for retailers to manage customers by reducing or eliminating long lines. They can calculate the average time customers spend waiting at checkout and how many shoppers leave to find the optimal queue length and minimize wait times.
Ombori Digital Signage can further enhance the customer experience by sharing occupancy-related data. Signs can be used to display instructions for entry based on real-time occupancy levels and in compliance with COVID-19 and fire safety requirements. During times of lower occupancy, they can be used to engage and inform customers with digital content and advertising, highlighting the store’s health and safety measures or holiday promotions.
While Digital Signage can inform customers when an occupancy threshold is reached, Ombori Occupancy Control can automatically close store doors to prevent more customers from entering. Doors automatically reopen when occupancy levels are reduced. If Queue Management is also installed, it can automatically be enabled on demand. Management can also receive notifications to adjust staffing to meet increased customer demand.
People-counting technology provides benefits year-round; however, it can be especially helpful for retailers during the busy holiday season. Understanding customer shopping patterns and behaviors can lead to better store layout and reduced congestion. Moreover, retailers can highlight top products in highly visible areas without overcrowding any one space. They can also provide proper staffing to ensure customer satisfaction.
Björn is Chief Experience Officer of Ombori Grid. He spent the early part of his career in the music business before moving into retail design and video production. His passion is for creating unique and memorable retail experiences that excite and delight customers. He spent 6 years at Visual Art in Stockholm before joining Ombori in 2018.