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Why footfall tracking is only one piece of the puzzle

Blog Why footfall tracking is only one piece of the puzzle hero

How do you assess the strength of the current UK retail market?

Well, according to recent headlines, traditional footfall tracking is one denominator that can be used to evaluate how high streets are performing. But it is only one factor, and as we prepare for our Midsummer Retail report launch later this week we take a closer look at what this means for this industry. Does this really mean a drop in sales through the till? Can this method really offer a true representation of the state of the UK’s retail bricks-and-mortar sector?

Tracking footfall is essentially people counting. This technique enables a landlord or occupier to understand the number of people coming in and out of the store by the hour. However footfall tracking doesn’t focus on individual behaviour, including customer dwell time in the shop or indeed whether or not people make a purchase. Traditional camera-based technology can also present problems of double-counting, resulting in misleading volume figures.

Follow the data trail

Data gathering is what really makes the distinction in terms of what is happening in the store and this ideally is undertaken by using data captured through mobile phones. This enables the landlord and occupier to actually assess traffic patterns, differentiate new from recurring visitors and find out where people shop and for how long. Monitoring the movement of mobile devices using GPS provides an unrivalled depth of insight, with multi-step anonymisation and aggregation completed to ensure GDPR-compliance. 

Mobile apps can also be used to track customer behaviour by sending location data to the cloud once a customer arrives at a store if the customer has consented to the data being shared in this way. Apps also track data in the background, even if the consumer isn’t actively using them.
In a similar way, credit card data can also be used to analyse spend in stores and demographics can be used to identify the type of customer who shops there.

So why does all this really matter? Well, when you blend all of these metrics together, you end up with a more powerful representation of what is actually taking place than simply looking at footfall alone. Combined insights can provide more accurate information to landlords, occupiers and local authorities enabling them to create a strategic plan regarding their assets and competition in the area.

What we have found is that footfall on the high street might well be down across the week but instead of visiting perhaps five days, where people might just be browsing, customers are now coming into city centres three days to work, with an intent to purchase. We know this is the case as data from New West End Company has shown that overall spend in the West End and Mayfair for May was nine per cent above May 2019 levels despite footfall still being around 20 per cent below May 2019’s figures.

In addition, our inaugural LocateVenues research monitors the retail and leisure offer of over 9,000 venues across the UK, covering all major venue types including town centres, malls, retail parks and more. Venue sizes range from major city centres to standalone grocery stores. So we are really able to measure the scale and quality of the retail and leisure offering in locations across the UK including by tracking the distribution and reach of store networks across the UK hierarchy of locations; comparing potential new locations for investment and benchmarking a client’s assets for a locations vs. competition.

Whilst LocateVenues identifies an average 7.5 per cent decline in the size of the retail and leisure offer in major and minor city locations across the UK since pre-pandemic, the latest footfall and spend data we are seeing all points to recovery. Meanwhile, local high streets have seen a boost in supply, with a 10 per cent increase in occupier presence in super- and mid-neighbourhood class venues, benefitting from an increased desire to shop locally. Time will tell how this plays out over the long term, but through our LocateInsights data tools and our extensive network of data suppliers, we will be keeping our finger on the pulse of both footfall and spending patterns across the UK.

Tracking footfall alone is a completely inadequate way to quantify success or otherwise. We need to rip up the rulebook and move beyond tracking this metric in solitude to really see what the story is on our UK’s high streets – the full picture is reflected via collective metrics to accurately indicate what is happening.

This article originally appeared on CoStar on Friday 24 June 2022.

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About the author
Paul Matthews is co-lead of Retail Strategy & Analytics practice who works with occupiers to optimise their store portfolio.

To contact Paul, email

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Paul is Director and co-lead of the Retail Strategy & Analytics practice, with 13 years’ experience working with occupiers to grow and optimize their store/branch portfolios. Prior to Colliers, Paul was Global Lead for the ‘Shape of Chain’ real estate analytics proposition at Accenture/Javelin Group.

He advises clients globally on store location and performance optimisation strategies, spanning the occupier spectrum from fashion, grocery and homewares through to F&B, leisure and retail banking (and beyond).

Paul’s experience includes sales forecasting for a US grocer, UK entry and roll-out strategy for an international F&B operator, branch rationalisation strategy for a UK bank, and estate conslidation strategy for a Telco merger.

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