* Store foot traffic up 3.7 pct in latest week-ShopperTrak
* Sales up 2.3 pct vs 0.2 pct yr ago-ShopperTrak
* "Conversion rate" matters most-ShopperTrak founder
By Jessica Wohl
CHICAGO, Dec 6 The falloff in visits to U.S.
stores the week after Thanksgiving was not as steep this year as
last, as retailers appear to be doing a better job of luring
shoppers during the holiday season, the founder of shopper
counting firm ShopperTrak said.
So what exactly is ShopperTrak? Its data is often quoted by
media and analysts during the holiday shopping season. But to
the shoppers it is tracking, the company is all but invisible.
ShopperTrak uses foot traffic from stores outfitted with its
monitors, sales data from those retailers and algorithms of
historic government sales data to come up with sales growth
figures, founder Bill Martin explained while touring stores on
Chicago's State Street with Reuters on Wednesday.
"We're not quite sure what value the numbers have," Martin
said, referring to the overall tallies and estimates distributed
during the holiday season. However, the data generated nightly
for retailers has "high value" for the chains, he said.
What the most recent numbers showed was that foot traffic in
stores rose 3.7 percent in the week ended on Dec. 1 - the week
after Thanksgiving, traditionally the start of a lull for
retailers - and sales increased an estimated 2.3 percent.
That is a stronger showing than the comparable week a year
ago, when ShopperTrak said traffic fell 6.4 percent and
estimated sales rose just 0.2 percent. During this year's
Thanksgiving weekend, traffic rose 8.2 percent and sales
increased an estimated 2.7 percent, the firm said.
Martin has been tracking the number of shoppers at stores
since 1995, when the firm began with four people. It was then -
while standing in a Pier 1 Imports store in New Jersey
watching "people walking out and not being converted" into
buyers - that Martin says he coined the retail phrase
"conversion rate," or the rate at which shoppers become buyers.
Today, companies as large at Wal-Mart Stores Inc use
the term "conversion rate" and Wall Street analysts use the term
in the notes they publish.
Chicago-based ShopperTrak, whose long-time clients include
Payless ShoeSource, American Eagle Outfitters Inc and
Disney Stores now has more than 200 employees and
measures traffic at more than 50,000 locations in over 70
Walking through a mall on State Street, just blocks from his
condo, Martin pointed out his firm's small boxes at various
stores. Shoppers probably would not even notice the counters,
which matched the ceilings, black at the Disney store and white
at Sunglass Hut. Many stores use such devices to track shoppers,
though chains such as Target Corp use cameras.
ShopperTrak then helps retailers use the data for such
things as evaluating the performance of promotions, determining
how to change marketing to lift results at stores with low
traffic and managing staffing for busy and off-peak times.
To succeed, stores must provide an experience that is not
available elsewhere to "convert a shopper into a buyer," Martin
said. "Right here is where the money is made."
Standing near the entrance of a Puma store, Martin
pointed out sneakers in bright colors, such as red. Shoppers can
see the exact hues of the shoes and try them on, rather than
trying to determine their colors online, where trying shoes on
is impossible. If the hue they want is in stock in their size,
the store is more likely to close the sale. If not, perhaps a
helpful associate can order the shoes, keeping the shopper from
The National Retail Federation predicted that holiday season
sales, or sales in November and December combined, should rise
4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year. ShopperTrak expects 3.3
percent sales growth, down from 3.7 percent in 2011.
The two groups measure different sets of sales data, with
ShopperTrak monitoring general merchandise, apparel,
accessories, furniture and other specialty categories, while NRF
includes non-store, auto parts and accessories stores,
discounters, department stores, grocery stores, and specialty
Though his firm only tracks traffic at stores, Martin says
retailers must marry their stores and various online channels,
or use what is called an "omnichannel" approach.
"You can't even say that's coming anymore, that's here,"
Online spending for the first 32 days of the season was up
14 percent to $21.4 billion, according to comScore Inc.
For online data, Martin said comScore is the one to watch.
"To me, they're the gold standard," he said.