When It Comes to Shopper Traffic, Accuracy is Everything

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Director, Marketing

Shopper traffic counts are critical for optimizing store operations and shopper service, but it’s all for naught, literally, if shopper traffic counts are not accurate, precise and reliable.

As I wrote about previously, understanding shopper traffic is foundational for developing essential store performance metrics, particularly conversion rates. Without shopper traffic, you simply cannot calculate traffic-dependent metrics, and it leaves you and your store managers without the insights necessary to push and pull upon your operational levers and achieve greater success.

But, make no mistake about it, not all shopper traffic counting solutions are created equal.

To be effective, shopper traffic counts must be accurate. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. Without accurate shopper traffic counts, you’ll be hard pressed to get any return on your investment.

Accurate traffic counts are needed first for credibility. If your store managers and sales associates don’t believe their counts – and, subsequently, their traffic-based performance metrics – are accurate, they’ll never buy into your strategies and change management efforts. Instead of concentrating on delivering superior shopper service, they will spend their scarce time arguing over what their “real” traffic counts are.

After credibility, accurate traffic counts are necessary for actionability. What good are plans built on faulty data? Building your plans on faulty data positions you to achieve your goals only by happenstance and sheer luck. Data and analytic insights are supposed to help take the guesswork out of your business, not put more into it!

Delivering accurate shopper traffic counts

Traffic counting solutions are comprised of three critical components:

  1. Hardware
  2. Software
  3. Services

Traffic counting requires a sensor, and there are a number of sensor technologies readily available, including beam counters, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth BLE, beacons and video. But, when it comes to accuracy, video – and, in particular, stereo video (3D) – is the gold standard.

Video has been in retail stores for decades, and was first deployed as part of Loss Prevention efforts. In years past, recorded video was stored and viewed later, with qualitative reasoning used to determine what was being captured by cameras. Today, software automates that process using computer vision, and analytical insights are gathered on shoppers, shopping paths, and what shoppers are doing in the store.

There are several really good stereo video sensors available on the market today, and the RetailNext SaaS smart store software platform is hardware-agnostic, working with any analog or IP sensor. At the same time though, RetailNext has developed its own sensor, Aurora, the world’s first sensor with integrated stereo video analytics, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth BLE, and a beacon. New for 2018, Aurora now boasts the industry’s widest field of view, and includes onboard, deep learning-based artificial intelligence on the sensor, at the edge.

With deep learning-based AI built in, Aurora improves upon its ability to identify shoppers, leading to unsurpassed accuracy. Where other sensors might confuse reflections, shadows, mannequins, shopping carts stacked with merchandise and other challenges as shopper traffic, Aurora only observes and measures people.

Software takes the raw shopper traffic data and turns it into actionable insights, allowing retailers to identify opportunities and make proactive course corrections in how they operate.  

There are a lot of software considerations to factor into any traffic counting solution, including user interfaces, the ability to access via mobile apps, custom configurable reports and seamless API integrations into other systems, particularly POS systems, workforce management systems and, of course, any existing business intelligence tools.

But, the theme of this article is traffic counting accuracy, and when it comes to accuracy, traffic counting solutions have one resounding weakness. You see, sensors and software are good at seeing, observing and measuring the behavior of people. The challenge is that a store’s sales associates are people too.

Traffic counting solutions like RetailNext can exclude employees from traffic counts, providing true shopper counts. Moreover, those employee exclusion benefits are compounded and further leveraged past the front door and into the store.

Have you ever seen a beautiful kinetic heat map of a store, highlighting “hot” and “cold” areas in a store? Well, those heat maps are for all practical purposes useless if a retailer is not capable of excluding its employees. The proof point is that the hottest burning area on a heat map will be your POS terminal, where most stores will have at least one person – an associate – standing for almost every minute of the store’s open hours of operation.

Services are the final component of any effective traffic counting solution. Services range from project management through the deployment, installation and systems integration phases all the way through to ongoing customer support. But, related to accuracy, the biggest service is that of auditing. If you’re dependent on accurate data, you justifiably want to ensure your traffic counting solution is accurate. At RetailNext, each and every store installation is automatically audited to ensure a minimum threshold of 95 percent accuracy is achieved. Additionally, if any data anomalies occur later, the software platform automatically alerts Customer Support for troubleshooting and problem solving.

But, don’t just take your traffic counting solution provider’s word for audit accuracy. Traffic counting solutions should be transparent, allowing retailers to do their own auditing if desired, and platforms like RetailNext empower that, as well as the Aurora sensor, which provides 30-days of onboard video storage to allow brands to “go back in time” to audit for accuracy, redraw traffic lines and recalculate counts after store layout designs, etc.

The start of a data-driven store strategy begins with front door shopper traffic counting, and a retailer’s most pressing concern should be data accuracy. An investment in accurate and reliable traffic counting offers an end-to-end solution for acquiring raw data and quickly transforming it into action insights, and saves the savvy retailer both the time and the money that can be best used in serving its valued shoppers.

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