How Many Store Visitors A Day?

A frequent statistic of performance for retail stores is the number of visitors they host over a period of time—the more the better. At its peak in 1996 the Gateway Computer retail store chain reportedly hosted an average 250 visitors a week. In contrast, during the second fiscal quarter of 2013 the Apple stores hosted an average of of 2,083 visitors each day.

Then in a September 2011, a press account reported that the just-opened Nanjing East (Shanghai) retail store was large enough to host 40,000 visitors a day. That figure sparked some curiosity about the size of stores, their capacity and how many people would fill a store.

To answer those questions, you must really start with an objective standard, in this case the Life Safety Code (LSC), almost universally adopted by cities in the United States, and consequently followed by building architects and designers when creating retail stores. The code specifies exits dimensions and certain other requirements of safety, based on the square-footage of a place of assembly and an assumption on how many people might be in that place. In some cases, like a theater, an exact number of visitors can be determined, but in other places, like a retail store, estimations have to be made.

At the same time, for a theater the number of visitors is constant over a period of time, such as at a play or movie showing. For a retail store, the number could fluctuate depending upon time of the year, day of week and time of day. Likewise, the number of people inside a retail store changes as people randomly arrive and leave.

So to answer the Apple store questions, let’s start with the assumption that the average visit time is 15 minutes.

Next, the LSC establishes two calculated occupancy load factors—seven and 15 square-feet per person—and one real-life load factor. That is,  how much space does an average person occupy? Retail stores are usually rated at seven square-feet, since  shoppers are standing up in a more concentrated use, although architects are free to submit a real-life calculation of that space.

Next, the code is applied only to the usable square-footage, meaning floor space not occupied by tables, columns, stairs and other interior objects. Based on actual Apple store floor plans, about 82 percent of a mall store’s public retail space is considered useable under the LSC.

Now, on with the actual calculations for an Apple retail store. A typical Apple store is open 11 hours a day, and a typical U.S. mall store has 2,700 square-feet of public space. There are about 30 Apple employees on the floor at a typical mall store.

Using all these figures, you would figure an LSC occupant load, which would then be used to establish the amount of exit space (total exit width, really, leading to how many doors) required to safely assemble the rated occupant load. In practice, architects typically increase or decrease the occupant load, and consequently the exit space, to meet their particular design requirements.

However, using just the basic occupant load from the LSC, one can calculate a standard, three-exit maximum number of visitors. So using these calculations, and assuming that the store is instantly full at opening, and continues to stay full all day (an unrealistic situation), a U.S., mall-sited Apple retail store could safely host a maximum of 12,584 visitors a day (see diagram below).

In reality, Apple’s average of 401 stores open during the second fiscal quarter of 2013 hosted just 2,083 visitors a day, less than 17 percent of the theoretical capacity. Naturally, there is a wide variation among the stores, with some stores hosting at least five times that figure.

So, while an Apple store may appear “packed” or “jammed” when you arrive, on average during the entire day, it’s over 80 percent below its absolute capacity.