Footfall management is defined as the measurement of the number of people entering a retail store or a shopping mall. It's also referred to as people counting, shopper counting, and sometimes capacity management. In the past, footfall management was a data-driven KPI designed to maximize sales and profits, inform retailers where to set up shop and accurately staff each location. However, the advent of COVID-19 changed some of that strategy significantly.
The pandemic changed the way we live, and - perhaps permanently - altered the way we shop. Consumers are reluctant to enter retail stores full of strangers, some with gloves, some with masks, and some just thinking "it'll never get me." The notion of foot traffic and walk-ins is more of a rarity than it had been previously.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that research from Shopkick demonstrates that nearly three quarters of consumers have changed their shopping behaviors as a direct result of this virus.
Early in the pandemic, they found:
60% of consumers are wary about shopping in stores;
85% are taking some action to maintain their health like using masks, shopping at less crowded times, and using self-checkout;
Online purchasing has not increased at a pace that equalizes the lack of in-store shoppers
With some European retailers open opening, and US retailers managing new policies, we have three recommendations for driving traffic, while carefully managing footfall, capacity, and the customer safety.
1. Meet me at the curb
Retail leaders like Best Buy are testing out new models to work within the confines of social distancing, while still providing an excellent customer experience and managing foot traffic.
In March 2020, Best Buy introduced curbside service for all of its stores. The effort was designed to protect both employees and consumers, while keeping revenue flowing. The solution allows consumers to shop online, and pick up at the store location without ever having to leave their cars. The appeal is multi-fold as consumers like the convenience, while retailers appreciate the reduced shipping and packaging requirements, and both appreciate the built-in distance.
With the success of such programs, retailers are including curbside options as an alternative to in-store foot traffic, home delivery and unused physical stores.
2. Manage crowd size
Similarly, Home Depot announced limits on the number of customers that can be in-store at a given time. They're also closing early to ensure sufficient time for restocking and enhanced sanitization.
Early in the pandemic, Walmart announced that they would be proactively deploying footfall management strategies, throttling the number of shoppers entering the store. After reviewing footfall data, they determined that the right solution was allowing five customers per each 1,000 square feet of floor space. They have also embraced other solutions for crowd management, including one way in-aisle foot traffic to avoid people running into one another, and requesting that people shop alone rather than bringing families. Costco has taken a similar route.
And my local Whole Foods is allowing 10 shoppers in at a time using a guard and a people counter, only allowing new shoppers in as one exits. Who would expect a supermarket to employ the same footfall management strategy as a nightclub?
3. Offer pre-arranged appointments
Retailers looking for footfall management solutions are busily evaluating appointment scheduling and planning how to best leverage their current solutions. Innovative stores can offer customers the ability to sign up online for 15 or 30-minute slots to check into the store, take care of business, and leave. Pre-arranged time slots eliminate the need to queue outside the store into dangerous parking areas, or stand in the pouring rain.
In the near term, bookstores are combining scheduled appointments with curbside pickup for a pre-arranged pickup time. That way, a bag can be left with a customer’s purchase in front of the store with no need for human interaction.
For some retailers, particularly beauty brands, remote appointments are being leveraged to provide personalized experiences and the ability to purchase online until retail stores reopen. Because shopping is emotional, consumers still want the one-to-one personalized experience. If you've deployed an appointment scheduling solution, see if your provider offers video appointments for the intimacy of an in-person meeting combined with the safety of a remote one.
Research from Censuswide on behalf of JRNI reported that 57% of consumers were more likely to book a retail store visit than they were prior to the pandemic. And appointments were far preferable to queuing outside the store. Leveraging appointments for footfall management emerged as a leading trend throughout the pandemic, and through the recovery.
With masks required in some parts of the world, and a strong desire to stave off the next wave, retailers continue to analyze footfall data, and tweak the strategies they've put into practice. We'd love to hear how you're deploying footfall management in your retail store, especially because the need for social distancing isn't going away any time soon.