Posted: 20 September 2018
The QR (quick response) code was first designed in 1994 in Japan. It took until 2002 for its popularity to take off with the wider Japanese population, and this was then quickly followed by China, but elsewhere adoption was slow. In the US QR codes never really took off at all. Adoption was marred by a few factors, in particular the need to download a separate app to read the codes, and the link from the QR code usually being disinteresting.
Wired.com summarize an all too familiar story about trying to use QR codes, “More often it went like this: Point your camera, remember your phone's camera doesn't do QR scanning on its own, download another app, open that app, point the camera, scan the code, and end up on some corporate website that's not even optimized for your phone. Few people ever scanned a code; fewer did twice”.
However, it turns out we might have been a bit hasty.
Over the last year we have seen a resurgence in popularity of QR codes within the US, driven by the development of QR code usage in Snapchat and then other platforms, and helped in no small part by Apple recently adding a QR reader to its camera. Users no longer have to download a separate app; it is quick and easy to scan the codes straight from the smartphone. And this provides a new opportunity for retailers.
Showrooming has been a big problem for bricks and mortar retailers. Shoppers come in store to see the products, then use their smartphone to check prices elsewhere and order online. QR codes are helping retailers to halt this trend. In-store QR codes can offer shoppers special discounts or promotions, encouraging an immediate purchase. People don’t want to wait for their online order to arrive if they can take it home immediately, they just don’t want to pay over the odds for the privilege. QR codes are a way to engage with shoppers and encourage purchases while in the store.
QR codes are also a way to encourage footfall to the store. Barneys New York used QR codes in print ads to promote the retailer’s collaboration with Daphne Guinness in preparation for the Met Gala. The codes were placed in the New York Times and other publications, promoting an upcoming event and drawing traffic to their store. Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales have also used QR codes in their print ads.
QR codes are increasingly being used by retailers to offer a more innovating and interactive shopping experience. Nike for example has been trialling the use of QR codes within two of its stores to provide information about different color and size options available to customers within the store and online. Shoppers can also scan a shoe’s barcode and tap the ‘request to try on’ option. This then alerts the smartphone of every shop floor member ensuring quick and easy service for shoppers. Nike is also utilizing the data it collects to offer those that have scanned QR codes exclusive offers and special promotions tailored to the customer to encourage repeat visits to the store.
QR codes are being used to improve the in-store shopping experience. At the innovative Amazon Go store, shoppers scan a QR code to open the turnstile in order to access the store. From here all purchases are allocated to the shoppers account automatically. And it isn’t just the most tech-driven stores that are utilizing this technology. Walmart is using QR codes to enable shoppers to scan the codes as they shop and pay via their app, meaning no waiting in line to pay within the store. Target is also doing something similar.
Retailers have recognised the benefit of QR codes this time round, and have been quick to integrate the codes in to their omnichannel marketing. Cath Kidston, as an example has been using QR codes on its products to direct customers to Pinterest boards where customers can get inspiration on the Cath Kidston look and encourage further purchases.
Retailers seem to have learnt from the experiences of the first wave of QR activity that ultimately failed. Back then QR codes more often than not took you to a corporate website or advert. Ultimately there was no incentive for people to scan. Fast forward to today and scanning these codes will bring you useful information, customized offers, and interesting stuff you wouldn’t get elsewhere. There is now a reason to scan and retailers are also getting better at telling people what they will get when they do scan. And with almost 60% of shoppers already currently using their phone in-store to research products and product information, the audience is receptive for increased QR code usage.
Retailers have realized that QR codes are a great opportunity to engage with customers both inside and outside of the store, and to build a sense of community around the brand. Where QR codes are offered, shoppers are welcoming them and engaging with them, and with research showing that over 1 billion mobile devices will access QR codes by 2022, this is a trend that retailers can really benefit from.