Monday, June 15, 2009

Tracking those visitors

Visitor evaluation is a significant part of the operations of any major museum or gallery these days. Understanding what attracts visitors, and most critically why they would want to come back or recommend others to make a visit has become a sophisticated process. Museum personnel now specialize in such activities, and the tools at their command have moved on from the simple exit poll and questionnaire, not that this is not a valuable part of such evaluation.

With the rise of Google analytics, we now know more and more about who visits museum web sites, which pages they go to and how long they stay on each page. But when it comes to physical museum visits, we generally know how many pass through the front door, but very little else about where they go or what they do, once they are inside.

I’ve long been interested in seeing how technologies developed in big sectors, such as retail, can be applied to our specialist sector, which will always have limited resources to develop its own technological solutions. To that end, I have become very interested in how the Shoppertrak retail traffic counting system can be utilized in our sector.

Shoppertrak is a Chicago-based traffic counting company, which has developed some very smart hardware and associated software primarily for the retail sector. They use stereophonic digital cameras to count traffic. This is not only the most accurate form of counting, but because it is stereophonic it can, through triangulation, work out the height of visitors, and thus differentiate adults from children. In addition the system can separate out staff from visitors, using RFID tags, and work out ‘dwell times’ in front of displays.

But it is the analytical tools that they have developed that really gives this data value. Shoppertrak suck all the data back to Chicago for analysis over night and then issue it verified and analyzed according to the client requirements. This could be as simple as the raw traffic data detailed hour by hour or as sophisticated as analysis of the data against trends over the past week, month or year, including ‘what if’ scenarios for working out anything from guide/attendant requirements to when and where the most dense visits are occurring, and what are the most popular exhibitions and indeed exhibits within them.

For an industry which still relies largely on manual clickers or simple IR beams to work out visitor traffic, we need to lift our game to get some more sophisticated metrics. After all government budgets can be determined by such. We at Smarttrack RFID are looking at what we can do to tailor this great technology to our sector.

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