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The secret life of car parks
Published:  19 December, 2013

Automatic Number Plate Recognition generates a mass of daily data, but it’s how it’s used that can make the difference to shopping centre landlords and managers and their tenants.

According to ANPR specialists, G24, when improving security, efficiency and revenue, data is the key to unlocking the real value of car parks. The technology delivers vehicle counts, dwell times and occupancy statistics – all useful inputs when justifying car parking charges or when introducing cost savings. In all this, obtaining data that can be acted upon is vital.

G24 logs over 12m vehicle events every month, and provides the data to customers in an easy-to-use format. Accessed via the web, and giving a continuous and clear picture of what’s happening in their parking facility, centre managers can start to offer tenants informed commentary on the impact and opportunities that their car park provides.

Understanding how and when customers use car parks has a variety of benefits – looking at how long cars are parked rounds out the footfall data, for example, and enables tenants to time their promotions more accurately.

And usage patterns, produced by monitoring visitor counts, can help explain fluctuations in visitor traffic, letting centre management react by extending opening hours or freeing-up bays during busy periods. 

“Historically, reporting was done by a man in a Hi Vis jacket with a clipboard, literally counting the vehicles coming in,” explains G24’s (IT) director Waqaas Farooq. “Now with ANPR, data collection can be done 24/7 and in much greater detail – we can extract registration numbers, and for a shopping destination, gauge affluence by vehicle type and postcode. All of this helps management provide a better experience for shoppers.” 

Farooq thinks at least 60 per cent of shopping centre car parks have ANPR technology installed, but he also thinks the majority don’t use the data collection function as fully as they could or should.

“Most site managers we speak to haven’t seen data presented to them in a way they could act upon before. We work with clients to understand exactly what it is they want to gather and analyse the raw data for them, so they can log on to our website and access tailored reports in a format they’re happy with.” 

It can also send reports direct to clients, saving time navigating the website, and they carry the shopping centre’s branding so they can be passed on to colleagues and tenants – who can use the information to schedule promotions – without needing to be customised.

The company has a standard set of reports, but clients can choose to have them formatted in a way that suits them, or geared up to track specific issues. Farooq gives an example of a request from an owner who had a problem with people using the car park as a detour to avoid traffic on the roads, driving in the entrance and out the exit on the other side without stopping to park. G24 did the maths and provided the owner with cut-through rates, so he could begin to remedy it.  

Data is almost a by-product of what G24 does, but the company realised early on just how valuable it can be for clients, having become a powerful tool in the relationship between managing agents and their customers, the tenants. With accurate and graphically represented information at their fingertips, centre owners can create compelling comparisons with previous years and car parking on other estates.

Data can be compared at desired intervals, either monthly or seasonally, and with other portfolio assets, monitoring performance in the South compared to the North, for example, or in the case of one of its clients Homebase, for different store locations within London.  

“Clients might want to look at seasonal trends, like averages and fluctuations during national holidays, perhaps comparing car park usage this Christmas to last year,” says Farooq. “Or when identifying the best times to run promotions, car park performance might indicate Easter is a bad time for marketing activity because there are naturally more visitors anyway.” 

ANPR can also be used to identify quieter ‘cold’ areas of the car park. 

“The system might show that people aren’t parking in a particular section of the car park. After a bit of investigation the operator might find that it’s down to poor lighting, with motorists preferring to park in lighter areas, particularly in the dark winters, where they feel more safe and secure. So, data prompts the owner to improve the lighting and thus the performance of the car park.” 

It can be used for means beyond car park management too, showing that trollies need to be cleared more frequently if there’s a supermarket anchor, for example. 

Another of the many benefits of ANPR is to assist security and customer service teams. G24’s StoreGuard platform sends real time messages to security teams when a vehicle of interest to the police enters the car park, or to the customer services team if a high spending customer or loyalty/VIP card holder arrives, allowing them to provide customers with a tailored experience.

G24 is working in partnership with Retailers Against Crime and the Metropolitan Police on utilising a database of suspects – whether they’ve been convicted of shoplifting, fraudulent activity or have a violent background – and sends staff an alert when identified vehicles enter the car park, allowing them to be proactive and deal with them appropriately even if they’ve had no direct experience with them before. It includes details of why that individual is on the list; their crime or misdemeanour, and staff can manage their own database, adding text, comments, images, audio and video so that all relevant information on how a particular driver has been dealt with in the past is at hand for consistency. And all of this can be done through mobile handsets, tablets and smartphones. 

“The feedback we’ve had from clients is that they’re no longer chasing offenders inside the shopping centre because ANPR helps to stop them going in in the first place, so it’s conducive to a safer shopping experience and a better working environment for staff and tenants,” says Farooq. 

G24 plan to give a free version of StoreGuard to police forces so that they are automatically alerted should a vehicle of interest enter a local site or car park, allowing them to attend and take action. 

“The data provided by ANPR technology can help to identify how long people stay on site, to figure out the best times to run marketing campaigns and to stop abuse,” concludes Farooq. “And data is presented in a way that empowers users, helping landlords to react to performance information, and in turn, make the car park more efficient and improve the shopping environment.”