Big malls are big business, and a complicated business at that. Operators need to attract and keep hundreds of retail tenants happy. They also need to be able to manage logistics and security for large crowds, and provide an experience compelling enough to lure in consumers who can also easily purchase goods online and through mobile channels. "Footfall" is the metric owners are constantly concerned about — How many people are coming into my location to shop?
But truly smart decision making requires insight that goes beyond simply knowing how many walk through the door. Mall operators also need information about sales conversions (the percentage of mall visitors who actually buy something), behavior patterns inside the mall (which retail spaces and common areas attract the biggest crowds?), and how promotions, events and other marketing efforts impact business. These kinds of metrics are a valuable commodity: they can be used to substantiate rental pricing, forecast staffing needs, track which retailers are pulling in the most traffic (and hence revenue) and improve mall logistics.
What can mall operators do to collect accurate traffic and behavior intelligence? In the online world, it's much easier to analyze consumer actions because web and mobile shoppers leave a digital trail.
Understanding exactly what's happening in brick and mortar environments is trickier. No "clicks" are generated when someone steps into a store or stops at a mall kiosk. Instead, operators must rely on data-capture devices specifically designed to count people and track their actions as they shop. Separating relevant information from irrelevant noise can be tough, however, as data inputs in the real world are far more variable and chaotic. Here are some key considerations to take into account:
- Environmental conditions. Online, it's impossible to mistake a baby stroller for an actual shopper who is clicking on links and product pages, and bad lighting doesn't get in the way of data gathering. In brick and mortar locations, there are a number of factors that make accurate data capture challenging, depending on the type of technology used to collect information. These include: bright sunlight, shadows, temperature fluctuations, large crowds and other conditions that can interfere with a device's ability to see or sense what's happening. "Blind spots" are another potential issue. If a data-capture device is incorrectly positioned, or in a spot where it can be inadvertently or intentionally blocked, it may miss important details.
- Technology choice. While no technology is going to be 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time, some are more accurate than others. There are pros and cons to every type of data-capture solution, so it's important to carefully test potential candidates under real world conditions. Some counting devices may work fine in low-volume environments, for instance, but lose the ability to count with precision when there are big crowds. Others (thermal sensors, for example) may have trouble as indoor and outdoor temperatures fluctuate. At a minimum, data capture technology should be able to: distinguish between adults and children, as well as between people and other non-human objects (shopping carts or baby strollers, for example); identify the direction of travel (are shoppers entering or exiting?); and track specific behaviors of interest (such as people congregating at a particular common area or retail display).
- Configuration and validation. Even the most sophisticated data-capture technology can fail to deliver accurate intelligence if it's not properly configured and validated. When purchasing a solution, mall operators need to be sure they understand how a selected technology functions, carefully review configuration and validation procedures (and make sure that they are consistent across multiple locations and devices), and become knowledgeable about the processes and tools available to support the proposed system throughout its life. Allowing sufficient time for these activities during installation will pay off in more accurate data over the long term.
For mall operators, knowledge is power. Consider the experience of Thailand-based developer and Brickstream customer Land & Houses: Thanks to sophisticated smart data capture devices and behavior intelligence technology deployed throughout its nine-story, 592,015-square-foot Terminal 21 mall in Bangkok, the developer is able to obtain highly accurate traffic and behavior metrics that are used to back up rental pricing and attract tenants for more than 2,000 individual retail spaces. The impressive traffic figures collected have already been instrumental in Terminal 21 signing the trend-setting apparel retailer H&M as an anchor tenant. Behavior metrics also make it possible for the mall to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and more effectively deploy security personnel. While some thought and planning does need to go into collecting traffic and behavior intelligence in shopping malls, doing so is certainly worth the investment.
— Ralph Crabtree is chief technology officer and founder of Brickstream, a leader in behavior intelligence solutions for environments where people shop, gather, work and play. He is an expert on image-understanding technologies, focusing on people tracking, video surveillance and document recognition applications.