The differences between GeoLocation tracking, WiFi tracking and pedestrian counting explained

How to capture and use the most relevant information to maximise ROI for your store, shopping center, strip mall or downtown.

The landscape of retail analytics has changed considerably over the years and even more so in the last 18 months; retailers and destinations are hungry for data that will enable them to make decisions to maximise their ROI, especially as they begin their journey to recovery post-pandemic.

The question is what solution provides the most relevant information for retailers, center managers and BID managers to make the right decisions? A fundamental part of retail analytics is capturing pedestrian traffic and identifying patterns in consumer behavior however there are many solutions in the marketplace that contribute to this and vary in levels of preciseness, granularity and accuracy.

There are three key technologies currently employed: geolocation tracking, wifi tracking and pedestrian traffic monitoring – and this article aims to explain each and present their respective benefits.

Croydon, UK

Geolocation and WiFi Tracking

For some destinations, it’s key to understand where visitors have come from and geolocation tracking plays a role in delivering this information. This data is harvested through the scraping of apps on mobiles. By gathering data at this macro level, the retailer, retail destination or downtown gain a better understanding of the radius of travel in the local area but is also key if they depend heavily on trade from international tourism.

WiFi tracking “sniffs” out wifi enabled devices within the range of strategically located “nodes”, identifying mac addresses on individual mobile devices. Notwithstanding any privacy concerns and understanding any accuracy limitations, it continues to hold a place within the marketplace, for now, as it can allow retailers and destinations to understand the path of movement around a location. Understanding the typical trends of customers who follow certain paths through a destination, retail store or even through an external street can add value, however, the data provided is only as good as the audience and the compatible devices they carry with them, if they do carry wifi enabled devices at all.

Geolocation and wifi tracking are non visual based systems, and data for these is captured from devices as opposed to actual people. This means that the “count” is a count of devices not individuals, so there is a risk of inaccurate data as many people tend to carry at least two devices, if not more (eg. a smartphone and smartwatch).  There is also a risk of data distortion as older consumers, which may be a key source of traffic to a destination or store, may not carry a wifi enabled device with them at all.

Both Geolocation and WiFi tracking are solutions that depend on compatible devices having location services and WiFi activated. If these are not enabled by the device owner, data will not be captured.

Pedestrian Counting

Pedestrian counting is a visual based system, which utilises AI technology to capture the volume of pedestrians, vehicles and bicycles within a field of view. A device is situated so as to view an area or “zone” to collect the volume of activity, however, it is also able to gather demographic data (gender, age and even sentiment) of individuals, although no personal information is gathered and the anonymity of individuals is guaranteed. As pedestrian counting provides a count of individual visitors rather than a count of devices the data is far more precise and granular, with an accuracy level of over 98% being the norm.

Pedestrian counting gathers data on ALL visitors (whether or not they carry a wifi enabled device) ensuring that the count is fully representative of the visitor population rather than what can either be a much smaller sample of visitors who carry devices, or a much larger sample of visitors who carry multiple devices.  

Privacy Implications

Recently the power of privacy has been placed firmly in the hands of the consumer. There is now the ability to opt out of location and WiFi tracking from personal devices, as part of the stricter privacy rules, and this is further impacting the effectiveness of geolocation and WiFi based tracking solutions. 

Earlier this year Mobile World Live commented that tech giants, Google and Apple, will be sharing new rules and detailed guidance around their data practices in Q4 2021. The biggest change from Apple will allow users to opt-out of data tracking by apps which indicates the short shelf-life that geolocation and WiFi tracking solutions present.

When considering a pedestrian counting solution it is important to ensure that no video is stored or transmitted away from the site for processing. Springboard’s solution ensures full anonymity by pixelating the video signal as it is processed for analytical purposes, therefore fully meets GDPR / CCPA compliance.

Tracking customers through geo-location and WiFi technologies only provide part of the picture but can be complementary to monitoring pedestrian traffic. Springboard has a proven history in combining all technologies to provide the retailer, retail destination or downtowns with a comprehensive picture of the customer’s journey. With the ability to leverage the largest number of data points across the UK and a rapidly growing number across the USA to provide insights and benchmarking analysis, Springboard remains one of the world’s leading Retail Analytics practitioners.


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