What Is Footfall (And Why Does It Matter in Retail and Hospitality)?

Customers 10 minute read 5th October 2020

If we tap ‘what is footfall’ into a dictionary, we’re met with the following definition:

The number of people entering a shop or shopping area in a given time.

That’s a nice and succinct footfall meaning, and it’s why ‘footfall’ is a term that has been used since the dawn of retail and hospitality.

However, there’s an awful lot that goes into calculating footfall, measuring it and working out how to increase it.

That’s right - you can actually increase footfall in order to drive more people into your establishment and raise your revenue.

What can I learn from footfall?

what does footfall mean

We’ll get onto measuring footfall in a moment, but you may already be wondering what you can do with the numbers it generates.

As it turns out - quite a lot!

Footfall data enables you to:

  • anticipate how busy an area is likely to be if you’re considering starting a business there;
  • anticipate future demand based on seasonal changes in footfall;
  • gain a better understanding of what drives in store sales or bookings;
  • match your staffing pattern to demand;
  • discover your worse performing hours;
  • discover your best performing hours;
  • match increases in footfall to marketing campaigns;
  • evaluate the impact of your loyalty program on footfall;
  • work out which promotional strategies are most successful; and
  • measure your performance against that of the competition.

It goes much deeper than the above, too. For instance, if you decide to change the layout of your entrance, store or window dressing, footfall metrics will give you an insight into what does - and doesn’t - work.

This is why counting your footfall is such an important task. It helps you identify how many opportunities you have to increase sales at any time of the day, and by comparing footfall to your revenue, you’ll quickly discover where (and when) you’re missing out.

How to calculate footfall

how to calculate footfall

Good news: you don’t have to manually count the people who walk past your restaurant, shop or hotel. Calculating footfall is, thankfully, far more automated than that these days.

There are few things you need to consider before implementing a system for people counting, though.

These are the most common elements of footfall metrics:

  • Number of people who enter your premises
  • Repeat vs unique visitors
  • Frequency of repeat visitors
  • Number of people who pass by without entering
  • Average time spent in store per person
  • Percentage of visitors who leave your store within five minutes (similar to a website bounce rate)

You need the above elements in mind when collecting and analysing your footfall data. And you’ll probably find that they’re all of interest to your business, whether you’re in retail or hospitality.

To collect accurate footfall data, you’ll need to invest in some technology. Thankfully, there are devices and platforms entering the market constantly, and they’re relatively affordable thanks to the commoditisation of sensor technology.

Here are the most common footfall measurement systems.

1. Infrared

These cameras emit an invisible beam across the entrance to your establishment and record a count every time the beam is broken.

Today’s infrared systems are intelligent enough to guess whether a count is genuine or as the result of some other disruption.

2. Thermal

This is generally more accurate than infrared as it works on the basis of monitoring differences in temperature.

Thermal systems can pick up customer body heat and count both individuals and groups of shoppers.

3. WiFi analytics

If you’re offering free WiFi that includes marketing tools, you should have access to analytics which visualise your traffic and provide key insight into your busiest days.

It might not be as accurate as per-person counting, but WiFi marketing is an essential addition to the other footfall measurement systems described in this blog.

4. Stereo depth imaging

Regarded as one of the most accurate methods for calculating footfall, stereo camera setups can cope with high volumes of traffic, multi-zones and even shadow counting.

How to increase footfall in a restaurant

how to increase footfall in a restaurant

Now we know how to calculate footfall, how do we go about increasing it?

While you obviously can’t physically draw more people past your venue, you can lean on the following tried-and-tested methods for boosting footfall.

  • Direct people in. How obvious is it that you exist? Make sure your restaurant is visible with outdoor seating, bold branding, signs and floor graphics.
  • Encourage staff to help. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of old-fashioned customer drumming-up; it’s why it’s still very much a thing outside restaurants on the continent.
  • Stage events. Have you ever held a local networking event at your restaurant? If not, you could be missing out on an opportunity to increase footfall exponentially within an audience you perhaps haven’t considered.
  • Create a loyalty system. Just do it - the time you spend on building a loyalty system people want to engage with will pay back dividends.
  • Focus on driving numbers at peak times. Breakfast, lunch, dinner - these are obviously your key times of the day for bookings, but are you shouting loudly enough about what you have to offer? Introduce special menus, vegan options and free coffee refills for breakfast - anything to turn a few more heads.

Most importantly - learn from your analytics. Look at the times you’re not busy but when the footfall is high. Something is stopping people entering - what is it?

Equally, if your footfall bounce rate is high, put your customer hat on and walk in yourself. What is putting people off?

Final thought: footfall in the ‘new normal’

Footfall is a metric which has evolved considerably in recent years. This is thanks largely to the new sensor technology described above and which enables ‘people counting’ and consequently provides far more accurate footfall statistics.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, footfall is likely to be a constant consideration for those operating in the retail and hospitality spaces for two reasons:

  1. The impact of continuing social distancing measures on footfall itself.
  2. The ability to accurately assess how many people are present within a space at any one time in order to meet social distancing requirements

TechCrunch recently reported on the increased demand for facilities management technology. That sector is likely to experience a surge in demand for its systems and services as a result, and for good reason.

Known as ‘people counting’ it could be the case that this form of footfall measurement moves beyond the realm of customer measurement for retail and hospitality businesses as we enter the ‘new normal’.

Regardless, footfall is something that should be on your mind as a business owner or marketing manager within these spaces. Make sure you keep this guide handy.

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