Published: 01 February, 2012
The people counting business is undergoing a period of rapid corporate and technological change. So how is this affecting leading players?
The world of customer counting is changing rapidly. Technology is transforming what can be done.
And at the same time clients’ expectations are becoming more exacting as they seek richer data about their customers’ behaviour.
The suppliers to the industry have to react to this changed landscape, and this has resulted in a wave of corporate change across the sector. FootFall was bought by Experian and now Synovate has been absorbed by the French market research giant Ipsos while RCT Analytics has been bought by Shoppertrak.
According to Gary Whittemore, global development director at Experian FootFall, “Footfall counting has been a one-dimensional measure, especially in centres where sales data is not available.” But now, by combining raw pedestrian numbers with other data, something much more powerful can be achieved. “It’s about providing context around the numbers,” he says. “We’re opening up the Experian data warehouse and using other data sets to supplement footfall.”
There are numerous ways in which this richer data can be applied, but Whittemore suggests that tenant mix is an obvious winner. “Matching tenants to demographics is especially relevant to secondary centres,” he says. “We’ve already seen how the bigger centres are using key tenants like Apple or Hollister to drive footfall within a centre.”
And better data could also lead to better-targeted marketing spend, Whittemore believes. “UK shopping centres spend £200m a year on marketing, and generally that’s split 50:50 between the landlord and the service charge,” he says. “To justify that, we need to be able to provide meaningful analysis tracking marketing spend against footfall and against retail sales.” But he concedes: “Sales data is the key and there’s still reluctance among tenants to disclose this.”
Landlords are also expressing a desire for sales density information, so they can identify retailers that are under- or over-trading and could benefit from a relocation, according to Whittemore.
And Dr Tim Denison – now of Ipsos following its £525m acquisition of Synovate – agrees that the market is moving rapidly. “Times have changed,” he says. “Clients are asking for more analysis, more details about how the numbers stack up. They want to be able to measure the impact of loyalty schemes and of promotions and events.”
According to Denison it is possible to have too much data and too many data sources. “There are so many opportunities, the challenge is to identify the best,” he says. “Retailers now see the timeliness of data as critical – we’ve gone from post, to fax, to email to web access. Now ideally they’d like real-time data but we maintain there has to be an element of validation in the system.”
The other key development identified by Denison is indoor location positioning, which follows the movement of shoppers around a mall or store. Provided a mobile phone signal cannot be linked to an individual, he does not believe phone tracking impinges on any privacy issues, but he also believes there are other ways of achieving the same result.
“We ran a system at Alton Towers 12 or 13 years ago that used wristbands with RFID tags to track movements around the park,” he remembers. “Visitors were incentivised to wear them, and we used the data to decide where to place new attractions to even out pedestrian flows around the park.”
As well as looking for more comprehensive data, global clients are looking for global suppliers to do business with, and that’s one of the reasons that underpinned Shoppertrak’s acquisition of RCT Analytics, the UK-based people counter that had already been using the Shoppertrak technology.
ShopperTrak provides a 24/7 managed service that counts the number of shoppers entering and exiting retail stores and malls in 40,000 locations across 72 countries. ShopperTrak’s daily retail foot traffic analytics empower retailers to improve their shopper conversion rate, staff associates to store traffic, and measure marketing effectiveness. The new investment expands ShopperTrak’s operations which already include Latin America, China and the United States. RCT Analytics immediately began using the ShopperTrak name.
“This investment supports ShopperTrak’s European and Middle Eastern growth strategy and allows ShopperTrak to meet the needs of its global customers who expect consistent, 24/7 service,” says ShopperTrak CEO Christopher Ainsley. “We are also seeing demand from retailers and mall owners, based in Europe and the Middle East, who are looking for more accurate ways of capturing foot traffic data. Our long term partnership with RCT made the investment a logical next step to better address the needs of our growing client base.”
However, what many shopping centres still require is a simple and accurate count of their shopper numbers, according to Tim Denby, marketing & sales director at Axiomatic.
“Technology is moving on, but not all shopping centres have understood the basic benefits of counting yet,” he says.
In addition Axiomatic’s advanced Brickstream counters can also be used to cover areas of key interest, with single or multiple counters tracking visitors to show:
How many people passed through a specific zone
How long people spent within a certain zone
The density of people within a zone
The individual dwell times of people within a zone i.e. longest and shortest dwell / queue times
Multiple units can be used to track visitors and create a ‘heat map’ showing where the highest footfall or longest dwell times are within the area covered
As well as providing footfall counts for individual entrances, Axiomatic’s RECAP reporting can use this data to calculate average occupancy levels for different periods throughout the day. This data also helps to generate average dwell times and this data can be of real value to shopping centres.
Keith Lowe, centre manager at the Orchard shopping centre in Taunton says: “Axiomatic provided a system to monitor the footfall across the six main entrances to Orchard shopping centre in 2009. The system has provided us with interesting data which has identified that two of our entrances are significantly busier than the other four. The system has also helped us to identify the average dwell time of visitors to the centre, highlighting that early afternoon in consistently the busiest time.
“Axiomatic has continued to provide excellent support for the system, with improvements to their reporting package by the introduction of their RECAP SQL web reporting – allowing us to query the data across any period, or drill down to see specific details of any day.”
And Sarah Duffin, centre manager at the Beaumont shopping centre, says: “Following rigorous tests of different equipment to ensure that the right solution was installed to meet the varying requirements of our entrances, Axiomatic have provided us with a system that not only gives us total footfall, but which highlights our busiest times and areas of the scheme. A useful tool to measure and quantify any marketing spend and events programmes. We are confident that Axiomatic remain at the forefront of people counting and can offer us the support, training and system upgrades to meet our needs.”