— By Chris Scheppmann —
A smart, simple solution to a holiday nightmare.
Retail executives across the United States recently had to face their annual holiday parking nightmare. Holiday sales represent about 20% of annual sales each year (with some stores reaching as much as 30%), and this increased business results in a corresponding increase in auto traffic to and from shopping centers. For retail executives, particularly those managing busier complexes, this increased traffic can cause a nightmare scenario of dozens of cars circling parking areas looking for a space — or waiting for one to open up. Stores that rely on holiday sales to make up 20% to 30% of their annual sales can’t afford to have customers wandering aimlessly in the parking lot — or worse, giving up and shopping someplace else.
The good news is that the technology revolution that has transformed parking in recent years can eliminate this nightmare in the future. More user-friendly PARCS equipment (the gates that allow entrance and egress), LPR tools, and even pre-booking platforms make retail parking easier than ever.
But one technology that should be a game changer isn’t making its way into many retail complexes. Parking guidance technology uses sensors to determine how many parking spaces are available in a particular parking facility — or on each floor of a garage. The sensors transmit that data to strategically placed signage that guides drivers right to open spaces. A parking guidance program can help shoppers conveniently find parking in just a matter of minutes.
It’s easy to see why parking guidance would be an attractive amenity, not just during the busy holiday season, but year-round. After all, when you are shopping, the last thing you want is to have to drive around in a garage trying to find a parking space.
Parking guidance provides other benefits as well. For instance, by eliminating the need to search for a space, parking guidance reduces the risk of vehicle collisions and vehicle/pedestrian collisions. Safer parking facilities reduce properties’ exposure to liability.
Parking guidance also offers tremendous administrative benefits. When shopping center administrators have access to real time data about how their parking facilities are being utilized, whether they are at full or near-full capacity, and when they tend to be busiest, they can make better decisions about how to manage those parking resources. Better and more comprehensive information tends to lead to better management decisions.
So, if parking guidance is such a great management resource and patron amenity, why don’t more shopping centers and malls use it? Often, they are scared away by the cost. Depending on the system, it can cost anywhere from $500 to $750 per space for a single space system in which individual sensors monitor each space. So, for a retail center with just 500 parking spaces, the cost of installing a reliable guidance system would run around $250,000 and could run as high as $375,000. And that’s just the initial installation cost. There may also be maintenance and repair costs to factor in. And imagine what the cost would be for a large mall with thousands of parking spaces!
For many retail centers, the answer may be found in a more streamlined, simple approach to parking guidance. A simplified parking guidance system relies on intelligent cameras located at the main entries, entrances and exits of individual parking floors, and even specific zones to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic. The cameras count how many cars enter and exit the structure, as well as each individual floor. That data is compiled and analyzed in real time to determine how many spaces are available in the parking facility as a whole, as well as on each floor.
The data is then transmitted to strategically located LED signs located at the facility’s entrance and at the entrance of each floor. When shoppers drive into the garage, the entry sign tells them how many parking spaces are available at that moment throughout the garage. As they drive through the garage, signs at each level tell them how many spaces are available on that particular level at that moment.
For larger garages, it may be advisable to install additional cameras and signs to serve individual sections of a parking floor to provide more detailed information about how much parking is available in those sections. The system is also scalable to allow for the strategic individual monitoring of specialty parking spots such as ADA, short term dropoff, or VIP shopping rewards spaces.
Shopping centers like 2nd & PCH in Long Beach, California, have turned to this simpler approach to parking guidance, finding that it provides a much more convenient parking experience for shoppers at a fraction of the cost of single space parking guidance. It’s easy to see why the cost is much more attractive, since they only have to install a handful of cameras rather than hundreds of sensors.
Like other forms of parking guidance, the systems also provide valuable information that can be used to better manage parking resources. The data collected and connected to a cloud-based management portal can tell administrators how many cars park in their parking facilities every day, which section of the facility are most popular with patrons, and which hours and days are busiest. This information can be used to appropriately set parking rates, inform marketing efforts and even plan shared parking programs with other local businesses and organizations.
When you know how your parking resources are being used, you can make better decisions about how to manage those resources. Parking guidance technology provides that information.
Guidance in Reach
Parking guidance technology can be a powerful tool for helping retail centers provide a better experience to their patrons from the moment they arrive. But many have avoided investing in the technology because of the expense of installing and operating a single space system. The simpler, streamlined approach to parking guidance may provide the answer for many retail centers because it is much less expensive, more manageable and provides parkers enough information to make smarter parking decisions.
— Chris Scheppmann is managing member of EnSight Technologies, a leading parking guidance provider.