More than a decade ago, Forbes proclaimed "The QR Code is dead. Long live the QR Code!" which feels even more relevant today, if you can believe it. Over the years, marketers have had an on-again, off-again love affair with these two-dimensional codes. What was once seen as a way to connect the digital and physical worlds is now a way of life. The problem 10 years ago was that adoption lagged outside of a small group and the majority of people never used them due to app downloads and micro-sites.
Previously, an app was required to read QR codes, greatly prohibiting adoption. Retailer and brand apps rarely last on shoppers' phones beyond 90 days, and sometimes the process of downloading the app was enough to deter consumers. Compare that to today, when it’s a part of every smartphone from the day consumers open the box.
Today’s QR codes open the door to more dynamic experiences, including augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR), video, livestreaming, promotions and live help from store associates. These digital experiences extend the life of the once short-lived code, and are more likely to be updated as part of an overall digital ecosystem. They're also far simpler and rewarding for customers. At the Puma flagship store launch in New York City, users could see a dynamic basketball display by simply pulling out their phone and pointing the camera at the code, bringing the entire display to life via AR with direct links to other content.
With the largest barriers removed, adoption has finally reached majority penetration in the U.S. as 63 percent of people scanned a QR code during 2020. Statista reports even positive adoption, stating that 37 percent of people scanned a code at retail during the past six months, with 3.8 billion total interactions expected in 2021. And while QR adoption at restaurants has increased directly because of COVID, for retail this trend has been coming long before the pandemic.
So, with this resurgence of a once dying tactic, how can marketers use QR codes in new, fun ways that excite?
Acquire More and Better Data
QR usage allows for traceable data, one of its biggest benefits. Not only can marketers track analytics similar to web or app usage, but customized QRs allow insight into when and where experiences are accessed. Additionally, unique phone IDs can be compared to known customers, providing high levels of personalization. You may be wondering about privacy regulations with all this information. QR codes actually encourage responsible use of a participant's data because they opt into each layer of experience and the data exchange is clear. QR codes also give consumers a direct link to purchase, removing friction and helping retailers understand their return on investment.
Extend Experiences at Retail
The reality of the pandemic makes meeting consumers’ expectations via digital experiences more complex. Enter the QR code as a way to enable dynamic experiences without the requirement of touching a common interface.
With retail locations being the most trusted place to scan QR codes (slightly ahead of restaurants), it’s no wonder you’re seeing them at virtually every store these days. This means that adding AR/VR experiences to enhance product offerings, including QR codes on video screens and as part of product displays, will be embraced by consumers as they inherently trust the retail locations they frequent.
Create Connections Beyond the Store
QR codes are a great way to create long-term connection points with consumers. Product packaging, advertising and even digital signage are viable options for placement because the content can be easily updated and improved over time.
Marketers can even use QR codes in e-commerce as a way for consumers to save products for in-person visits or to create direct links to associates in nearby stores. Intel is even using a QR code at retail to create a "remote control" experience, connecting a shopper’s mobile for use in the store and beyond.
Expand Payment Options
QR codes can expand payment options, creating additional marketing and personalization opportunities. Marketers don’t have to look further than Starbucks, which is generating almost a quarter of current transactions via its app, or Walmart, which has quickly become the largest mobile wallet, giving the company direct communication with more than 22 million shoppers.
These strategies aren’t just for huge retailers; adoption for QR-based payment is up 28 percent, driven by a dramatic statistic from The New York Times showing that as many as 54 percent of shoppers are concerned about touching cash.
With increased adoption, ease of use and traceable data, the QR code has become one of marketing’s most versatile tools. When used correctly, these codes can become a comprehensive part of any effective strategy, helping to increase opportunities for personalization, engagement and conversations. The QR code has definitely reached the potential many marketers dreamed of decades ago, and expectations are high for a bright future.
Steve White is the senior vice president of commerce at WONGDOODY, a human experience company.