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Methods for measuring traffic in a retail store

by Apparel Resources

12-October-2018  |  10 mins read

Image Courtesy: www.securens.in

Having the exact number of count of the customers can bring enormous benefits to the retail business. Vijeta Gupta, a Student of Master’s in Fashion Technology, NIFT, Delhi discusses the technologies available for keeping the count of the traffic in the retail stores.

Counting Traffic in a Retail Store

According to a blog post by the Control Group, it was early 70’s when retailers started realizing the importance of counting people visiting their stores. During that time, a Canadian engineer came up with the idea of an outfitted large box with an infrared beam that counted every time someone walked across it. Since then, there have been many technological advancements in the field that have helped the retailers in keeping more accurate count of its customers.

The basic level of technology available for the purpose continues to be infrared beam counter. This technology emits horizontal infra red beam close to the entry door and when a person enters or exists the store, the beam gets interrupted and transmits that count to the receiver. It is an inexpensive and easy-to-install method, which serves the purpose for small stand-alone stores. These wireless systems can be powered with lithium batteries and can work for years or even longer without any replacement required.

However, the major disadvantage that comes with the basic level of technology is the accuracy. These systems can show inaccurate counting in case of many people entering the store at the same time. For instance- In case of a wider entrance when ten people are entering the store at the same time, the counter may count only seven. For reasons like this, these systems are preferred in smaller physical stores. The maximum efficiency can be obtained in the stores with narrow entrance. The major brands for the IR based counter are Traf-sys and Sensource.

Image Courtesy: wsp.com

The shortcoming of the technology did not solve the purpose of big retailers with the wider entrance. In order to fulfill the requirement, new technologies were developed, few of them being thermal Counters that use an array of sensors which detect heat sources. These are overhead embedded systems and use heat from the people bodies to count the number of customers entering the store. A few brands also have the technology of determining the people entering and leaving the store separately. These systems require cable connection to power the sensor and give a high level of accuracy, mainly in the stores with bright light. They can be used in the area with wider entrance, delivering a greater level of accuracy. However, these systems have a few disadvantages; one of them is that it becomes difficult to figure out that what sort of individual (grown-ups or youngsters) are shopping at the given time. Moreover, it becomes difficult to verify the accuracy of the counter, and also the accuracy of the system can be affected by the change in thermal condition in the ambience of the operation. Best brands for the thermal counters are Sensource and Irisys.

Another technology to solve the above challenges is the video counting system. These overhead mounted counters count the number of visitors that venture into the store through a virtually definable region or line. The counting performed is generally directional and they operate in the region with the best lighting. Few of the sensors are able to provide information of who is entering when and where. They can handle wider areas with multiple systems being installed in different regions. Some also have the ability to filter carts, children, and strollers. Thereby providing more accurate data. The disadvantages include that these systems are sensitive to the change in background colour and feature, which may result in the inaccurate count. Lenses can be affected by the dirt and dust, affecting the visual wavelength, thus the system requires periodic cleaning. These systems are sensitive to lighting level and may not function below a certain level of light. Best brands for video people counters are Axis Communications and Honeywell Solutions.

The sensitivity to the light of the equipment gave rise to a new technology which uses Wi-Fi of the customers’ smart phone, named as Wi-Fi counting Systems. Every smart phone transmits Wi-Fi signals every 2 to 8 seconds, even when they are not being used. The system collects all its Wi-Fi signals, in the range and detects all the smart phones which are not logged in to the Wi-Fi network. The advantages of the system include, the devices can remember who came before and entered again after three months. The device is useful in determining how many of the visitors are the returning customers, how long did they stay in the store, how many passer-by are in front of the store and have not entered the store.

Moreover, the additional filtering algorithm is used to filter out the statics, staff devices and can correct any deviations and errors in the observations. The major brands for the Wi-Fi people counter are Traf-sys and V-count.

But all the above mentioned technologies could not fulfill the overall demand of the current scenario of the retailers. For the best accuracy to beat the competition of the market, the retailers needed a better technology serving the purpose of all. The technology to meet the new demand is the CCTV (Closed Circuit television) people counting with video footage that combines the benefits of video counting and Wi-Fi counting system. In this technology, the people counter is connected with the CCTV camera that tracks the movement of the people in the stores. They provide with the high accurate data as the systems are enabled with the live video recording, which helps in identifying the accuracy and authenticity of the data. The system also records the video, which can be used for further usage. The benefits of the system include the fact that these are preferable for wide area entrances by connecting several cameras across the ceiling. The system accurately detects and records the entries, exits and the waiting time, that helps to determine that how long the customer was there in the store and how often is the place visited. The major brands solving the purpose are Retail Sensing and Clear View Communication.

Using the advanced level of technology can help in a number of factors. The two major aspects being the value for money and quick ROI (Return on Investment). The higher level of technology generally ensures the increase in conversion rate. People counting data becomes even more powerful when combining it with other data sources, specifically Point Of Sale (POS). With this combination, the retailers can compute the conversion rate. Without knowing the visitors count, retailers miss the complete picture and make decisions based on their gut feelings. People counting and conversion should be used to measure store performance on an on-going basis to continuously identify areas for improvement.

Accuracy level calculation The accuracy percentage of Eco counter (IR based counter and Thermal Counter is taken from the article by Hong Yang, i.e. ‘Investigating the performance of automatic counting sensor for pedestrian traffic data collection’. And the accuracy of CCTV based camera from retail-sensing site (How a CCTV people counting system works, 2017).

Accuracy Level
Number of stores 10
Average total no of transaction each store (monthly) 1800
Actual Manual Basic/ IR Intermediate/ Thermal Advanced/ CCTV
Average monthly traffic per store 10000 7000 7910 8463 9800
Accuracy Percentage 70 79.11 84.64 98.00

The information accuracy by the advance level (CCTV) technology is high as compared to the other counting methods which further result in subsequent advantages such as: less incidents of theft in the retail stores, and knowing which promotional strategy is getting more attention from the visitors.