Friday, March 13, 2009

On second thought, bring back the lasers

Ron writes: Getting a hard count of how many people pass through New York’s Times Square every day is an important measure for a number of commercial interests—setting retail rents and outdoor advertising rates most particularly. According to this article in the New York Times, the Times Square Alliance pays $100,000 a year for a team of Russian immigrants who are paid $8 an hour to count the masses. The NYT reports that high-tech gadgets such as video recordings, vertical cameras, and even lasers have been considered, but that the immense volume of traffic overwhelms the technology. Instead, the human tide is counted by “dozens of Russian immigrants armed with clipboards, folding chairs and counters.”

Still, the low tech hand clicker approach employed by the Russians doesn’t work perfectly either. According to one of the counters, “When people walk en masse, it’s useless.” So when Times Square is most crowded, and counting accuracy is most important, the low tech method breaks down, too.

Having worked with many companies to help them understand customer traffic and behaviors, I know the best results come from employing both higher tech solutions such as video cameras, along with a low-tech, more labor-intensive approach. Perhaps if the Times Square Alliance employed this one-two punch, they would be able to get true head-count fidelity.

Even so, the most crucial assessments would still elude them—like how many people are actually stopping into the stores and buying, and who and how many are actually looking at the billboards. Those are the numbers worth real money.
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