The Evolution of Foot Traffic Analysis and How to Use It in 2020

Foot traffic analysis is helping brick-and-mortar stores gain the same rich customer insights e-commerce brands have been capitalizing on.

When online shopping made headway, e-commerce brands had an upper hand in terms of data. They could track more than just how many people came to their site — they could look at how they interacted with their site and therefore understand overall customer behavior while engaging with the brand. 

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar retailers were happy if they could get an accurate number of shoppers who entered the store. 

And then came technology. Foot traffic analysis evolved from simply body counting to a more sophisticated set of analyses, akin to those available online. Now, data-driven retailers can collect rich insights about not only how many people enter their store but also about their behavior while there. 

In this article, we’re examining the history and evolution of foot traffic analysis and how you can use it in your retail stores.

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The evolution of the foot traffic counter

First, let’s take a look back at the evolution of foot traffic counting and analysis: 

  • Manual counts in ancient times: There are historical indications of early manual counting. According to the National Museum of American History, “scribes performing calculations moved small stones or metal tokens along lines.”
  • Mechanical counters: In the 19th century, inventors began creating and patenting mechanical counters. These devices were used to count agriculture, machinery, and more. In 1874, Alexander Atkinson invented a counting register to track quantities of grain.
  • Pressure mats: Pressure-sensitive mats, platforms, and sensors were one of the first of advancements targeted at counting people. It also works in a retail environment. 
  • Infrared beams: Beam counters are placed on opposite sides of the store entrance. They use a receiver or reflector to shoot a continuous stream of light across the entrance. Each time this beam of light is broken, it adds a count to the tally.
  • Thermal counters: This technology was developed using heat sources to count the number of people who walk into a store. 
  • Video counters: Video people counters record the store entry and use computer algorithms to count the number of bodies that walkthrough. Retailers were able to start analyzing more than just the number of shoppers entering the store — they could also look at their behavior once inside. 
  • WiFi counting: Even more advanced than video counters, WiFi foot traffic analysis is the most sophisticated to date. Shoppers’ smartphones connect to the network and send alerts and information to the system about their activity. This detailed analysis shows the number of shoppers, where they went, which areas they spent the most time in, which products they explored, and even which associates helped them.

Retail technology continually empowers brands to understand more about customer behavior, building authentic relationships, and driving sales. 

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How to use foot traffic analysis today

Retailers can use a combination of the modern tools above, many turning to video and WiFi, as their primary foot traffic analysis tools. “Foot traffic is a critical barometer for retailers,” says David Bairstow, SVP of product, Skyhook. “With so many signals competing for consumer attention, it’s important to understand how many consumers are visiting your stores relative to your competitors.” 

Retailers can “identify trends within their own CRM data to explain some of the changes but they can’t put together the entire story without understanding the flow of foot traffic,” he says. Foot traffic analysis ties everything together. 

“Being able to see relative changes in foot traffic can support or deny a thesis.” – David Bairstow, SVP of product, Skyhook

Retailers should analyze a few key categories of insights: 

Traffic patterns

Analyzing how customers move through your store encompasses a lot. So focus on KPIs that support your overarching business goals. That being said, there are some universal data points to consider when looking at your foot traffic:

  • Friction points: Where are shoppers getting stuck? What can you do to make them unstuck? 
  • Clusters: Are there specific locations in the store where shoppers tend to cluster or spend a lot of time? What’s there that’s making them spend so much time in this spot? Is it a good or bad thing?
  • Conversion rate: Knowing how many people enter your store and how many people make a purchase will help you understand conversion rate. This is a more accurate indicator of how effective you are at driving sales than flat-out sales numbers.
  • Dwell time: How much time are shoppers spending in your store? How does this correlate to dollars spent and other conversion-related metrics?

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Market monitoring

It’s always a good idea to run market analyses. “Compare foot traffic between multiple store locations and your competitors,” recommends Bairstow. This will help you understand where you fit into the overall landscape. 

A comparative analysis, against your own stores or your competitors’, serves as a benchmarking tool to see how your stores stack up. Based on this information, you can determine whether your foot traffic numbers are healthy or need to be addressed. 

“Retailers can look at the distance consumers travel to the highest performing stores, the demographics of visitors to highest performing stores, the other retailers clustered around the highest performing stores versus lower performing, and traits that are shared by high performing stores,” Bairstow says. 

Marketing attribution

Bridging the gap between online and offline data is a never-ending challenge. But, technology is making it easier to do so successfully. Still, marketers are challenged when it comes to attribution, especially for digital campaigns that drive foot traffic and in-store sales. In fact, 60% of brands don’t currently use an attribution model for influencer sales at all.

“Foot traffic analysis can tell you if your sales and marketing campaigns are having a direct impact on foot traffic to stores and resulting in physical sales,” Bairstow says.

Foot traffic analysis tools for retailers

Now, the industry has no shortage of foot traffic analysis tools. “It’s hard to have a broad view of all your stores and competitors with old solutions that require expensive hardware like cameras and beacons,” says Bairstow. “Many retailers are maximizing their knowledge of their consumers, and those who are not, risk falling behind by avoiding leveraging the new tools available.”

Some foot traffic analysis tools to check out include: 

It’s best to vet your options with your own research to determine which is the best fit for your stores and your business goals. 

How to optimize foot traffic to your retail stores

Data is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s what you do with that data that makes the impact on your bottom line. Retailers need to understand the insights from their foot traffic analysis tools and, more importantly, act on those insights. 

Here are some resources to help you do exactly that: 

About the author:

andreaAlexandra Sheehan

Alex is a copywriter who works with B2B companies in the retail, e-commerce, and travel sectors to create strategies and expert longform, website, and blog content. You can see her work on sites like Shopify, Vend, Stitch Labs, Money Under 30, and more. thealexsheehan.com.

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