Can measuring footfall save the High Street?

The retail sector is constantly changing and evolving. The pandemic and increasing online sales have badly affected high streets and physical retail.

“Understanding and adapting to these changes is fundamental to the vitality, sustainability and prosperity of businesses, communities and the economy”, according to researchers Susie Philp, Les Dolega, Alex Singleton & Mark Green of the University of Liverpool in a recently published study. Such awareness and adjustments, though, require better information which is now possible with today’s leap forward in sensor technology.

The retail landscape is constantly changing.  In 2019, 19% of retail sales in the UK were made online. Just three years later, the share in 2022 is now much bigger at 31% (statista), a rise of 63%. This period of retail upheaval has had significant consequences, especially for those businesses who have failed to adapt to changed consumer purchasing behaviour and online competition.

In particular, footfall, often cited as the ‘lifeblood‘ of a high street vitality and viability, is a key measure for the successfulness of these strategies to revive the high street and a widely used proxy for their economic performance. The researchers define footfall as the count of people travelling through a shopping area at a given point in time. Footfall is increasingly automatically counted through video sensing technology.

Smart Towns and Cities

Many towns and cities are now setting up an Internet-of-Things system to inform and improve their area. Footfall counts are easily integrated into such systems. The vital footfall signs can then be shared with interested businesses and other stakeholders.

Footfall counting in the smart town or city works with cameras mounted on, for example, lampposts. Sophisticated algorithms examine video stream through the counting zone and count the people passing below.

References

Philp, S., Dolega, L., Singleton, A. et al. Archetypes of Footfall Context: Quantifying Temporal Variations in Retail Footfall in relation to Micro-Location Characteristics. Appl. Spatial Analysis 15, 161–187 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12061-021-09396-1

Statista. Accessed 21 July 2022

Smart City Solutions, Retail Sensing 21 June 2021

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