People Counting Technology – Then and Now

Taking attendance or counting people is an age old practice for so many applications.  Various industries use industry specific terminology but it all boils down to counting humans accurately.  This knowledge unlocks a growing number of key metrics used in a wide variety of industries.

•  Libraries and museums use patron counters to validate the need for their services to the community while also providing legitimacy to request funds for future expansion or improvements.

•  Retailers use people counters together with retail analytics software to optimize revenue by making educated and measured decisions on staffing, marketing, competitive store positioning, and location planning. Counting people unlocks knowledge on metrics not otherwise measurable including; conversion ratio, customer to staff ratio (service intensity), average customer value, average customer shopping time, average store occupancy, predictive future traffic.

•  Casinos use patron counters to report traffic counts to meet government regulations and monitor occupancy levels.

•  Amusement parks monitor occupancy and wait times for attractions.


people counting technologyIn the early day’s retailers, libraries, museums, and other industries assigned someone to count people coming through their doors using a hand counter but realized quickly they needed a better “mouse trap”.  Following is a short historical perspective with a glimpse of the future for hardware and software used in the people counting industry.


1st generation – In the mid 90’s retailers began taking advantage of photoelectric people counters (also called beam counters) and computer databases to start collecting consumer traffic data.  These were considered one dimensional devices since they only count when something crosses a beam of light.  They were ok for monitoring a small entry and providing daily traffic trend but had many shortcomings with accuracy and reliability.  The desire for more reliable, accurate and automated devices drove the need for advancement.

2nd generation – Around the year 2000 People counters took a big leap forward.  They incorporated video or thermal imaging sensors to expand counting accuracy by monitoring dimensional areas. Since these devices were mounted overhead and equipped with the ability to communicate over networks, they had significant advantages over their predecessors.  They could track multiple people in multiple directions, all while collecting and transmitting this data to a central data server with little or no human intervention.  Manufacturers have also included video recording so results and accuracy could be easily validated.  Although beam counters still dominated many industries with their lure of low cost and easy installation, these 2nd generation devices began to take the market by storm, especially for retailers who needed, reliably, accurate traffic data.

3rd generation – By 2005, dual lens video sensors hit the market.  These sensors are able to view an area with a three dimensional perspective.  With ability to measure the height of objects traversing in view of the sensor, accuracy levels of 98-99% are common.

4th Generation – From 2012 to present manufacturers have been adding more features and capabilities to collect customer traffic data. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth detection together with various methods to exclude employee traffic now make collecting customer traffic data a true science.   Even with all these advances costs have actually decreased, finally making video based sensors the wise choice even in comparison to the old low cost beam counters.


With major advances in hardware, software engineers and data analysts have a continuous challenge to keep up with the industries ever increasing appetite for data and analytics.  Retail analytics software must make sense of all the new data that is being accumulated and combined with point-of-sale and staffing data.  It’s not enough to know conversion ratio, customer value, service intensity (customer per staff ratio), peak traffic, low traffic, etc., etc. The real value comes when retailers are able to easily take advantage of this data to enhance the shopper’s experience by optimizing store operations and net revenues.

This is where SenSource shines – Our goal is to make planning easier while increasing productivity and revenues by taking advantage of your greatest asset… Store Staff.  In today’s age of digital one-click shopping, human interaction is brick-and-mortar retail’s lethal weapon.  Our software breaks down what’s already happened to optimize and plan for what will happen.  Our proprietary Vea software combines historical data from top performing stores with machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver predictive and prescriptive intelligence for all levels of store operations.

“Omnichannel is a must, mobile is driving everything, and technology is key. But all that just makes store employees that much more important”. Daphne Howland, RetailDive.Com

Are you optimizing for future growth or planning on the past?

In my next article – Tune in for more on the importance of humans interaction in retail.

Joe Varacalli | President, SenSource, Inc.
Guest Contributor


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