Merchandising Know-How: Tracking customers in-store - SNEWS

Merchandising Know-How: Tracking customers in-store

Do you know how long customers stay in your store? How they move through your store? Or, the size of the average customer purchase related to location in your store? If you do, you can stop reading, but, if you don't, you'll want to read on to learn the methods of tracking customer behavior.

Do you know how long customers stay in your store? How they move through your store? Or, the size of the average customer purchase related to location in your store? If you do, you can stop reading, but, if you don't, you'll want to read on to learn the methods of tracking customer behavior.

What's the benefit? By analyzing how your customers move through your store, where they pause to check out merchandise, how much they buy and how long they stay, you can maximize your sales.

How do you do it? We'll discuss specific methods for gathering the information but understand that it takes a commitment of time, discipline and the support of staff and managers. The information obtained will lead to refinements in store arrangement and customer service and will give you a clearer picture of your business.

The first step is deciding what you want to analyze. You might start with a list like this:

  • Average duration of customers' stay in the store
  • Average sale during that time
  • Average number of products sold

Allow at least an hour or more each time you access information and track it for a month. Assign a staff member to observe customers, record the specific behaviors you are tracking and record the information.

Create a form for staff member "analysts" to use to quickly jot down their findings. It should include the things you want to analyze, as well as the day and time span of the report.

On the form, list the days of the week in one column and the time slots in another so that a simple check mark can be recorded. For example, a staff person might track customers on a Wednesday in the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. time slot. By tracking customers at different times of the day and different days of the week, you'll obtain an accurate picture of your busiest days and times. That will help you maximize your sales at those times, but will also make you aware of the need to build sales in the "off" days and hours.

Another valuable insight is how customers move through the store. To spot the areas that are most profitable, create a simple floor plan of the store with each department numbered -- footwear, outerwear, camping, bikes, apparel, etc. -- and include it on your analysis sheet. The purpose of the floor plan is to observe those areas of the store in which customers stay the longest. And you know that the longer they stay, the more they tend to buy. Create icons to use on the floor plan -- a square for one to five seconds, a circle for six to 15 seconds and a triangle of 16+ seconds.

Have your staff analysts watch customers as they peruse the store, using the icons to indicate where customers stop and for how long. This will tell you a lot about what interests customers and what's working and not working. It will enable you to position merchandise more effectively.

No question, it's a lot of work, but the rewards can be great. Think of your store as a laboratory and this exercise as an experiment. Give it time and commitment and your lab project can return valuable information that you can use to increase sales.

For more specific information and instruction on analyzing store traffic metrics, as well as conversion numbers, you will want to also study at two SNEWS® Training Center Articles: SNEWS® Retail Merchandising Training 101: Sales efficiency and real estate (read by clicking here), and SNEWS® Retail Merchandising Training 101: Traffic and Conversion (read by clicking here).

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.


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