Successful business owners, coaches, and leaders worldwide know that an organization either works to improve or falls behind the competition; there is really no such thing as simply staying the same and maintaining success. In the retail space, that has meant changing operations regularly to maintain competitiveness in today's marketplace – and for most, that looks like turning to tech-based solutions to improve operations and increase overall customer satisfaction. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that necessity in the last year.
As a result of COVID-19, numerous retailers have adopted new tech-based people-counting systems to ensure customer safety. These people-counting systems help retailers accurately track the number of customers in a store and adjust appropriately without sinking additional time and energy into manually counting foot traffic. The increasingly common tools have ensured that social distancing during the global pandemic was achievable. Now that the pandemic is slowly receding, retailers recognize the ongoing benefits of these systems and are implementing their use into their daily operations to experience the benefits they offer beyond meeting occupancy guidelines.
What are People-Counting Systems?
People-counting systems are precisely what they sound like: Systems that count the number of customers entering and exiting a space over a set period of time. Previously, retailers relied on employees counting the number of patrons by hand – They would stand by the door and count the number of people going in and out.
However, as technology has become more sophisticated, retailers have transitioned this responsibility away from their staff and onto people-counting systems, such as the Ombori's People Counter.
People-counting systems track customers, transmit the data, and then generate reports of the analyzed data that managers can use. These systems provide insight into the number of people who enter a designated area of the store, the occupancy of a store or location during a specific timeframe, and the number of sales transactions completed compared to the occupancy rate.
What are the Different Types of People-Counting Systems?
Every tech solution is unique to the company that creates it, which has provided retailers numerous options regarding their people-counting systems. For example, Ombori's Grid People Counter "[tracks] footfall in real-time to meet occupancy regulations, make data-driven decisions, optimize staff planning, and increase revenues."
Of course, there are a dozen approaches to people-counting. Here are a few other types of people-counting systems commonly used across industries today:
CCTV & Stereo Vision: Optical People Counters
This is a dual-method used less commonly today. CCTV uses video to record individuals entering and exiting the store, while the vision technology leverages facial recognition and object deduction to count people. However, this sophisticated imaging tech is more expensive than alternative methods.
Thermal People Counters
Thermal technology tracks the movement of the human body by measuring how the body heat of entering customers raises the temperature of the environment and entryways, providing data on customer traffic. This tool is popular among grocery retailers who can use the information to constantly adjust the number of checkout lanes they have open and move around staff members accordingly. These are great for high-traffic areas and do not require light. Also, they can be linked to other cameras to expand the zone of measurement.
Mono People Counter
Similar to stereo technology, this is a single lens system that tracks traffic. Unfortunately, the range of accuracy at times for these devices can be as low as 50%, and, despite laboratory claims, mono people counters have not yet seen accuracy much above 90%.
WiFi People Counters: Signal Tracking
When a customer's smartphone WiFi is turned on, it sends out a MAC address. Retailer routers can pick up this information, track customers' locations, and identify how many users are within the store. However, limitations to this system exist because not all customers will have a smartphone. Furthermore, of those that do, not all will have WiFi turned on, especially as more consumers become aware of privacy concerns that come with being connected to public wireless networks.
IR (Infrared) People Counters
IR counters work by placing a barrier between two spaces; when a customer walks between the IR counters and interrupts the signal, they are counted. These sensors, however, require more management and general maintenance compared to other more hands-off solutions.
Benefits of People-Counting Systems
Companies are constantly seeking new tools that will give them a competitive edge in their industries, and throughout the pandemic more than ever, people-counting systems that retailers adopted primarily to meet social distances guidelines have proven their worth even in a post-pandemic world. Systems such as the ones Ombori offers have allowed retailers to take an innovative approach to data collection, which retailers have found helps them more carefully allocate resources, assess the value of their marketing tools, and make the most efficient use of their spaces.
Traditional counting methods required that employees stand at the entrance and exit of a building to conduct counting manually. These automatic systems remove the need to utilize human resources to conduct the counting, and as a result, they free up that additional employee for other uses.
In addition, by utilizing the counting system, businesses can anticipate staffing needs. During high-traffic hours, additional staff can be scheduled to accommodate the increase in customer activity, and during low-traffic hours, retailers can schedule fewer workers.
Analyze and Modify Marketing Campaigns
Following a specific marketing campaign, most retailers assess the campaign's effectiveness by analyzing the sales activity following the campaign's launch. However, people counters provide an alternative insight into the effectiveness of such campaigns by tracking the number of individuals entering the store after the campaign.
For example, following a specific advertisement posted on the local community website, retailers might use people-counting to assess whether the advertisement increased foot traffic instead of simply more spending by existing customers. If not, they may want to consider new marketing ideas. This helps retailers determine exactly how their marketing is impacting their clientele.
Understand Tracking Conversation Rates
Conversion rates refer to the number of purchases completed in relation to the number of individuals who enter a store. The conversation rate baseline varies from one industry to the next, but retailers are typically somewhere between a 20 to 40 percent conversion rate. By analyzing conversion rates via people-counting systems, businesses can understand where they fall within these expectations. If they are not meeting industry standards, new solutions can be implemented to improve foot traffic within the store.
Provides Useful Data
The data provided by people-counting systems not only contributes to the above efforts but depending on the store's needs, additional insight can be gleaned. For example, retailers can identify how specific changes in climate patterns impact traffic in areas with seasonal changes. Or, businesses can better understand how their occupancy is impacted by the holiday seasons. Data can be analyzed based on the business goals of individual companies.
People-Counting Systems Improve Customer Service
One of the invaluable benefits of people-counting systems is the dramatic improvement in customer service. Businesses that make full use of these technologies can optimize their model to ensure all customer demands are met, including reducing queue lines by understanding peak times of business. This way, the customer never has to deal with congestion.
The contemporary consumer has expectations that reflect the digital age. Most stores, for example, have an app that helps customers keep track of promotions and manage purchases, and the instant availability of free shipping, in-store pickup, and generous return policies across industries and retailers means that customers expect convenient, seamless experiences both in stores and online. In that kind of marketplace, retailers who fail to adapt will have a hard time keeping up. Tools like Ombori's Grid People Counter empower businesses to exceed customer expectations and build loyalty through an incredibly seamless shopping experience.
Ombori describes the impact like this: "through gathering and analyzing customer traffic data, [companies] can create value in terms of revenue and business efficiency and generate crucial insights that drive sales, improve conversion rates, and make informed marketing and spending decisions."
And it makes sense. Why continue to throw money at marketing ideas without being able to assess their efficacy directly? Why ask shift managers and supervisors to rely solely on their own experience to decide how many employees to put on shift and when? Information is power, and with the array of tech solutions that businesses have available to them today, it costs more to pass up such opportunities than it does to take advantage of them.
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.