Mobile footfall tracking: the Google Analytics of the offline world

ShoppingArcadeWhen it comes to shopper insight, online retail has long had the edge when it comes to seeing how shoppers are moving around the virtual shop floor, what they are buying and how often they revisit a site. Wifi and beacons are changing all that.

With the introduction of both, physical retail now has the tools to readdress this imbalance. The footfall tracking capabilities of both technologies enable retailers to follow shoppers’ mobile phones as they move around from street to store.

Beacons’ promise of cost-effective, targeted, localised, personalised and timely messaging to shoppers in or before store has been exciting retailers. However, delivering communications direct to the mobiles of people on a shopping mission is only one of their uses. Because they can be used to triangulate shoppers’ positions and create a real-time store movement map, they are an unbelievably rich source of shopper insight and store data.

Retailers can build up a picture of dwell time, types of purchase, busiest times of day, and how shoppers move around the store, all of which can be used to test and improve the efficiency of operating systems and marketing.

The only downfall is that because beacons are permission-based, the user therefore has to download the app and then have Bluetooth turned on, as a result a smaller percentage of visitors are tracked. It’s also not the quickest or cheapest option.

This is where wifi comes in. It can be set up to measure the number of people in-store and track their dwell time. Retailers can track footfall both inside the location and nearby. From this they can work out the level of passing traffic and how that converts into either an in-store or in-venue visit. Once they’ve established a baseline for the average ‘street to store conversion’, they can then measure the impact of a new window display or marketing campaign. It also helps in planning for staffing and stocking levels.

Comparing beacons and wifi reveal their various strengths (see results below). Beacons are more accurate in enabling tracking movement in-store, however wifi offers greater reach in terms of numbers. When it comes to ease installation and the respective values of the systems to the operations teams, there isn’t much to choose. However when you look at marketing effectiveness, beacons are the clear winner.

As always, it’s horses for courses and testing in-store will reveal more about which technique is right for you. It’s early days for beacons. Trials such as that in Regent Street have suffered teething troubles due to insufficient awareness among consumers, but many have reported some excellent results, including big retail and brand names Eat, Coca-Coca, Virgin Atlantic and William Hill. Either way, the potential richness of the data available to retailers is intriguing and should help create more rewarding shopping experiences.


Footfall tracking using wifi:

Tracking accuracy 6

Number of people tracked 9

Ease of install 8

Value to operations team 10

Value to marketing team 6

Total = 39/50

Footfall tracking using beacons:

Tracking accuracy 9

Number of people tracked 5

Ease of install 10

Value to operations team 9

Value to marketing team 9

Total = 42/50 (winner)

Viv Craske is head of digital at Live & Breathe