How to Measure Footfall - Overview of Different Technologies

Footfall analytics can provide a lot of valuable information about customer behaviour for companies from different industries. With the increasing digitalisation, the number of technologies that can be used to measure footfall has continuously increased. This article provides an overview about the most common technologies and their respective advantages and disadvantages.
tracking visitor movement
Footfall is defined as the measurement of people entering a particular facility/location, whether this is a live event, conference, or retail industry. As such, the term "footfall analytics" refers to the advanced method of counting people who are entering a location. (If you would like to find out more about what footfall analytics is, please have a look at our blog post on that topic).

Different businesses from retail to event/promotion agencies and the MICE industry can benefit from tracking footfall. It provides them with meaningful insights about their visitor's behaviour that can help them improve customer experience, optimise operations and increase sales.

Some of the most critical metrics that can be measured include the overall number of people that were reached with an activity, the engagement and bounce rates, the interaction and conversion rates, as well as the average dwell time and the peak times.

Whatever the reason for tracking footfall is, various people are counting technologies that can be used. These technologies vary in their functionalities, application cases, accuracies and prices. In the following paragraphs, we will present to you some of the most common people counters, including their advantages and disadvantages.

 

Different Technologies for Measuring Footfall

This article focuses on technologies for which measuring footfall is the main purpose. Have a look at our product page to find out which technologies we offer to our customers.

There are methods with different primary functions which conduct people counting as a secondary function. These include for example measuring how many people are connected to a store/event WiFi network or company apps where people can opt-in when entering a store/event. Given that measuring footfall is not their primary function this article will not further cover such methods.

 

Handheld Tally Counters

The handheld tally counter (or a tally counter app on a mobile phone) is regarded as the most old-school method for counting people. There is a dedicated employee at the entrance of a location that counts the people entering manually. Due to its disadvantages in terms of accuracy and efficiency, this method is not suitable for continuous monitoring of an accurate people count. At this time, tally counters might still be used for one-off, small-scale people counting needs.

Pros:

  • The least costly, in terms of the equipment use


Cons:
  • Inaccurate since it is highly prone to human error
  • Inefficient use of human resources
  • Data cannot be directly fed into the next process, such as a POS system
  • No additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple people count

 

Beam Systems 

Beam people counters usually employ infra-red beam systems. Put simply beam counters are composed of 2 elements: the transmitter, which emits the laser, and the receiver, which detects the laser's presence. As people pass by, that beam connection gets interrupted, and the count is increased or decreased.

Pros:

  • Plenty of affordable and easy-to-install options

Cons:

  • Can't differentiate between people entering and exiting – separate entrances and exits would be required
  • Accuracy decreases with increasing width of the entrance
  • Issues when counting several people entering/exiting together
  • Any object can be counted if it breaks the beam
  • No additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple people count.

 

Thermal Sensors 

Thermal counters use body heat to measure footfall. They are normally mounted overhead at the entrance of a location. Installed at an entry, they provide a simple people count. Only if thermal sensors are installed throughout a venue can they track the movement of people.

Pros:

  • Not dependent on lightning conditions

Cons:
  • Difficulty in distinguishing people moving in close groups
  • No additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple people count

 

Turnstiles

A turnstile is a people counting system that uses a gate with a rotational barrier. As a person walks through the turnstile, the barricade rotates and a person is counted.

Pros:

  • It is very accurate
  • It can additionally serve as a security barrier

Cons:

  • Turnstiles do not promote easy access to a location and are therefore not suitable for many sites (e.g. in a store, you want to ensure that potential customers have easy access, so turnstiles are not an appropriate option)
  • No additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple people count

 

Smart Mats

Smart mats are customer-tracking solutions that work with pressure sensors placed in floor mats. They measure the number of people passing over the mat(s). Smart mats count people anonymously and are not obstructing the visitor flow.

In addition to a simple count of how many people are entering a location, larger areas can be measured by deploying additional mats – this provides the benefit of different analyses regarding the customer movement.

Pros:

  • High accuracy
  • Additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple people count can be gained if smart mats are deployed in a more extensive area

Cons:

  • It can be expensive if needed for wide coverage

 

WiFi Tracking

WiFi-based people counters (WiFi sensors) gather footfall data by tracking anonymous smartphone data from visitors. WiFi-enabled smartphones emit a ping when they search for nearby WiFi networks. WiFi sensors detect these pings and depending on the signal strength. They can thus track each unique smartphone. WiFi sensors don't collect personal data (it is GDPR compliant).

WiFi-based people counters allow the user to gain additional insights into customer behaviour and the performance of a store/event/promotion. Depending on the type of event/location where footfall should be analysed, the accuracy lies between 80-90%.

Pros:

  • Easy to deploy (plug & play) – can be used for short- and long-term measurements
  • WiFi sensors can be installed unobtrusively.
  • Can easily cover large areas
  • Additional insights into customer behaviour are available (e.g. dwell time, bounce rate, interaction rate, conversion rate, peak time)
  • Unique count – returning visitors are recognised and counted only once
  • Passerbys (people passing by your location without entering/engaging) can also be counted and analysed
  • If several devices are installed (3+), heatmaps and flow maps can be generated.
  • External factors like lightning, temperature, etc. have no impact

Cons:

  • The count is a projection as not every person has a WiFi enabled smartphone or some people might have turned their WiFi off

 

Video People Counting Systems

Camera-based people counters provide a very high level of accuracy (98-99%) which is a major advantage compared to many other methods.

If camera sensors are installed only at the entrance(s) of a location, they measure the site's footfall (overall number of people who visited). Suppose the system is scaled up, and additional cameras are installed throughout the location. In that case, additional metrics such as the number of visitors in specific zones, visitor movement within and between zones, and dwell times.

Pros:

  • Accuracy of 98-99%
  • The system can either cover only the entrance, only specific zones or the entire location.
  • Additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple count are available when a bigger area is covered (e.g. dwell time, bounce rate, interaction rate, conversion rate, peak time)
  • Heatmaps and flow maps are available.
  • Possibilities to add a variety of additional functions (e.g. gender statistics, the direction of view, staff exclusion or mask detection)
  • It can be used indoors and outdoors

Cons:
  • Camera sensors don't recognise returning persons if they have left the field of vision
  • Have to be installed at a ceiling/gate – coverage area depends on the installation height

 

Wearables

Wearables are popular at events/conventions that require pre-registration. Examples of wearables are smart badges and smart wristbands (equipped with RFID chips), but they can come in different shapes and sizes. RFID sensors that are placed throughout the event venue can track the movement of those wearables, allowing the organiser to have an exact overview of the capacity of each area and gain valuable insights into customer behaviour.

As opposed to all the other technologies described in this article, wearables collect personal data. Therefore, visitors have to be informed about this, and they have to agree to the collection of personal data when signing up for an event.

Pros:

  • Accuracy of 99%
  • Many additional insights into customer behaviour apart from a simple count are available (e.g. dwell time, bounce rate, interaction rate, conversion rate, peak time)
  • Heatmaps and flow maps can be analysed.
  • Personalised wearables provide detailed information about each visitor's experience and allow organisers to target visitors according to their interests.
  • Personalised messages/information can be displayed at information points.
  • Can be used for security/identification purposes as well

Cons:
  • Costly installation
  • Only suitable for events where people have to sign up

 

Conclusion

Over time there have been many different technologies to measure footfall, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. In this day and age however, good footfall analytics systems should go beyond a simple counting and should include additional metrics about your customer behaviour that are relevant to the user. These extra data (e.g. bounce rate, conversion rate, dwell time, etc.) can provide a company with valuable information that can help improve customer experience, optimize operations and increase sales.

The choice of which type of technology should be used to measure footfall depends on the specific use case. If you would like to find out more about which technology best fits your needs, please book a meeting with one of our experts.