Heat mapping in retail: know your customer

Johannesburg, 20 Jul 2021
Read time 3min 50sec
Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua.
Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua.

With retailers struggling to keep their heads above water, they’re turning increasingly to technology to assist them in identifying what their customers want so that they can plan their stores accordingly.

COVID-19 has changed shopping habits – possibly forever – and brick-and-mortar retailers are having to compete with the online shopping experience in order to remain relevant. In addition, people being confined to their homes for months on end has changed what and how they buy. All of this may require retailers to rethink their strategy to meet changing customer demand.

Research by JP Morgan into the new buying habits of shoppers during lockdown indicates an increase in demand for cleaning products, vitamins, hair colour and coffee, whereas sales of cosmetics and sun care products dropped significantly. With this knowledge in hand, the retailer may need to reconsider the aisle layout in their store, but first they need to know for sure where their customers are spending their time – and money – in their outlet.

Heat mapping cameras that show retailers how today’s shoppers move through their store and where they spend the most time can provide the store owner with invaluable data, confirms Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua South Africa.

Heat mapping is a technology that’s often confused with thermal technology, but where one measures individuals’ temperatures, the other tracks people. In simple terms, heat mapping is done using a camera that tracks and counts people as they move through a shopping centre or across an open area.

The cameras create a map that indicates high and low traffic areas, using colour to depict the routes that customers take through the store. “The resulting data provides the store owner with a more in-depth understanding of customers and their shopping behaviour, while offering an opportunity to optimise the store layout accordingly.”

A retailer can use heat mapping technology to determine which aisles see the most foot traffic, helping them to strategise where to position which items in the store, as well as optimal areas for special offers. It becomes possible to track exactly how many shoppers walked past a particular display on a particular day, as well as to analyse customer flow through the store to identify areas with lower foot traffic and make the necessary adjustments.

Knowing how many people are in your store also enables the retailer to ensure that sufficient till points are open to service them. It also helps them to be compliant with limitations placed on numbers by the various COVID-19 lockdown levels by calculating the number of in-store customers, helping to avoid overcrowding. “New people-counting cameras can even recognise repeat entries or non-shoppers (such as staff and security) and exclude such data, ensuring an accurate head count.”

This type of data can also help retailers identify peak shopping hours, assisting with scheduling, as well as highlighting whether there’s a surge in shoppers following a marketing campaign, measuring its success or otherwise.

Another benefit that retailers can gain from this data is the ability to understand the amount of time that customers spend in a particular part of the store. “This gives them a clear picture of whether the merchandise in this area is desirable. They can even plan marketing campaigns to promote items located in other parts of the store, to draw customers there,” says Venter. “However, if the retailer sees that people spend a lot of time in a specific aisle but the purchases from the area are low, it’s possible that the shelves need restocking or that the retailer doesn’t have the brand that the customers seek.”

Allaying concerns around data privacy, Venter highlights that the technology only collects data on the quantity of people in a specific area, not facial or personal data. The data is converted into an algorithm that cannot be re-converted back to an actual image.

It’s been said before and it will no doubt be said again: data is the new gold, and knowing where the hotspots and dead zones are in a retail store can prove invaluable in helping a retailer up their game and deliver what the customer wants. 

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