Still Relying On Footfall Data? You’re In The Wrong Business

Andrew Busby
3 min readDec 30, 2022

I did something unusual (for me at least) this Christmas, I visited the Boxing Day sales for the very first time. Not exactly a bucket list item you understand and as I shall recount in a moment, it was borne more out of necessity than any desire to escape the turkey leftovers. However, it proved to be an enlightening experience and got me thinking.

As it turned out, unlike many, I wasn’t there to fill a few hours and remove the boredom from what, for me at least, has always been something of a catatonic day. And also unlike many, I do not consider sitting in front of Home Alone 2 to be a worthwhile post-Christmas Day pursuit.

No, I’m moving house and have decided that I need to mark the occasion by having an almost complete turnover of my furniture and kitchen accessories, amongst other things.

And so my Boxing Day trip first took me to an electrical store and after much dithering, thirty minutes later I was the proud new owner of a shiny microwave oven. Next stop was the furniture store.

After the usual circling of the table and chairs I had my eye on, I took the plunge and engaged with a store assistant. Now, Andrew was very helpful and I got chatting to him about his day and how busy it must have been for him.

No, he said, you’re my second customer (this was at 5pm). And that got me thinking about footfall data.

Those of you who have read some of my retail musings will know that retail metrics is a topic I return to from time to time, because for me, in many ways, they’ve come to symbolise all that is fractured in retail today. Sales per square foot anyone?

And as retail morphs from transaction to entertainment and experience, sadly, our collective crutch — footfall data, needs to be consigned to retail room 101.

Now, I don’t hate footfall data, not in a cellular sense at least, but it seems to me that as retail evolves, the relevance of footfall data is diminishing. But of course, it still has its place — like at museums or football grounds.

Of course, for those paying attention, that might sound counter-intuitive to what I just opined regarding retail morphing but not when one considers how footfall data is used. It’s assumed an almost cult like status, as if nothing else matters. Footfall equates to the health of the high street. But there’s the rub. It doesn’t.

Football clubs especially, are want to announce the day’s attendance figures, and that matters because their footfall data directly relates to revenue. But when was the last time you heard a shopping mall announce the day’s attendance figures?

According to Inmar, about a third of US retailers expect to see between 11% to 20% of the goods they sell this holiday season returned. Some estimates put the value of these returns as much as $170 billion. And that’s for sales which were made as opposed to those killing time at the shops (online shopping aside).

Surely, it’s net sales over a specific period of time (after which an item cannot be returned) which should be quoted to provide a true reflection of retail sales?

There are many barometers used as to the health (or otherwise) of retail, from NPS (net promoter score) to sales per square foot to footfall data. All have their place but only when interpreted in the proper context.

And I guess that’s the real point, retail is both a very simple but, paradoxically, an incredibly complex industry, primarily because it deals with you and I.

Even though we may not realise it, our spending behaviour is largely driven by our emotions. Zana Busby is a consumer psychologist: “Usually, emotions control our spending habits and impulsive buying fulfils different emotional needs”.

And of course, that ‘shopping’ journey may have numerous motivations, catching up with friends, eating out, seeking entertainment, browsing or perhaps even making a purchase.

Faced with that uncertainty, is it any wonder that the metrics most commonly used by retailers are now lagging behind those of their customers?



Andrew Busby

Global Industry Leader Retail at Software AG, founder Retail Reflections, best selling author, former Forbes contributor, global retail influencer.