QR Codes: The Retailers’ Secret Weapon

By Laura Marriott, lmarriott@neom.com

Connectivity and convenience: that’s what today’s consumer wants more than ever before. And mobile marketing and more specifically, mobile barcodes, play a pivotal role in helping brands and retailers deliver in this new world of enhanced communications and on-demand information.

By activating traditional static media and linking through to dynamic interactive mobile content, mobile barcodes merge the physical world with the digital and by doing so can help boost sales, increase customer engagement, build brand loyalty, and educate an audience.

These small black and white squares, reminiscent of ink blots, are now being used by a host of national retailers - from Macy’s to Target to Best Buy. They have appeared everywhere from billboards to print advertisements to product packaging over the last year. Recent research from comScore revealed that 20.1 million mobile phone owners in the U.S. used their device to scan a QR code in the third quarter of 2011. Among these mobile users who scanned a QR code, 59.4% did so from home, while 44% did so from a retail store and 26.6% did so from a grocery store.(1) 

What do I want my QR code to do?

The possibilities that QR codes present are limitless. Before you include one in your next advertising campaign think about how it can help your brand engage your target consumers. H&M, the world-famous Swedish fashion company, created a promotional campaign for the opening of new shops in Germany. 120,000 registered members of a web community received a mobile coupon via SMS, offering them a free H&M T-shirt when presenting the QR code to be scanned at the new H&M shops in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. By opening time on the day of the store’s launch, more than 100 customers were queuing up to redeem the offer. Two hours after the shop opened, all 2,000 t-shirts had been given away.(2)

What do I need to convey to my target customer?

Although QR codes have crossed over into the mainstream, some consumers may still need to be educated on how to use them. In order to ensure maximum traction, in the early days of your campaign you should include ‘how to’ instructions explaining how shoppers can source, download and install a barcode scanner on their phone and what branded experience / exclusive offers await them after the scan.

Where should I place the QR codes for maximum impact?

Multiple distribution locations can increase inventory while offering lower shipping costs and faster time in transit. High-volume shippers often use this inventory placement strategy. The rule is to place high-volume items in multiple locations close to customers and slower moving products in a central location. E-tailers should also consider local tax laws when choosing a location.

Careful consideration needs to be given to the design and placement of any QR code. For outdoor ads, place the code at eye or arm-level. In a print ad, the barcode should not fall over a fold as this will hamper scanning. Also be sure to leave white space around the code and use a minimum of 1 x 1-inch print specification. For TV or cinema ads, the code should remain onscreen long enough for the viewer to launch the scanning application and scan the code – a minimum of 15 seconds.

What should my code look like?

You may love your logo and your brand colors, but to ensure the easiest possible scanning experience, codes should appear in the standard, simple, black and white checkered format, be large enough that they can be scanned and located at the right height (see above). Producing your code in black and white will increase the number of phones and code readers that can scan it. You should also use open standard barcodes that can be scanned by the largest number of devices and software applications. Prior to launch also make sure you also test the code on a range of devices and scanning applications and make sure it always the code resolves to a mobile optimized site.

What kind of dynamic mobile content should a QR code link through to?

Scanning a QR code should offer real value. Recent research has revealed 41% of smartphone users scan one in the hope of receiving more information about the brand (3). The desire to interact with the brand is already there, which makes it all the more imperative that the consumer has a positive brand experience from the outset. Mediocre offers or ‘dead links’ will result in the consumer avoiding scanning in the future, and may even result in them thinking less of your brand. Instead any QR campaign should enhance the consumer experience rather than detract from it and offer them something that makes them feel part of an exclusive group with priority access.

For example, Macy’s used customized QR code and SMS technology as part of its Backstage Pass campaign, to deliver exclusive and engaging video content to users' mobile phones. It extended its brand by bringing celebrity designers and fashion authorities more directly into every store location nationwide by offering consumers essential tips, information on the latest trends, advice and inspiration straight from their favorite style icons when they scanned the code. Another US retailer to follow this strategy was Target. Its QR campaign for its home furnishing department worked on similar principles and embedded QR codes in national print advertisements By scanning the code, the customer was then linked through to a 60-second video clip of home styling expert Sabrina Soto demonstrating how Target’s furnishings and products could liven up the home.

How can I measure the success of the campaign?

Whatever the campaign, be sure to define goals before integrating a mobile barcode and choose a provider who will enable you to monitor the campaign via a barcode management platform. When executed properly in conjunction with an analytics platform, mobile barcode interactions are measurable. This valuable time, location and demographic data delivered in real time, and on a code by code basis, can help brands to focus their spend on the most profitable channels or media locations. In this way, analytics can be used to provide more insight into your consumers. All of this will help better direct mobile ad spend and increase the success and ROI of future barcode campaigns.

Once initial interaction with the consumer has occurred, it’s also important to continue the dialogue, adding value throughout every interaction. Continued consumer engagement should be a key benchmark in determining the overall success of a QR campaign, so planning for it early on will only serve to bolster consumer satisfaction with your campaign and positive feeling towards your brand.

So what’s next?

Mobile barcodes when used correctly and creatively can unlock countless possibilities for retailers by opening up new opportunities for marketers to build lasting relationships with consumers in a targeted and measurable way and extending the brand experience.


(1) comScore Data Mine - 20 Million Americans Scanned a QR Code in October
(2) All results from YOC AG - http://group.yoc.com/
(3) Survey results from Chadwick Martin Bailey - http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1008781&R=1008781


Laura Marriott is CEO of NeoMedia Technologies, a provider of 2D mobile barcode technology and infrastructure solutions that enable the mobile barcode ecosystem world-wide. She can be reached at lmarriott@neom.com.