IPC Direct Marketing Flash
Are QR Codes here to stay?
Quick Response (QR) codes originated in Japan in the automotive industry, but because of their ability to encode detailed information, their usage has spread rapidly into retail. But how many of these 2D barcodes are actually being used? And what is the real value of these codes to retailers, and indeed marketers?
Of course the initial appeal of QR codes was how they easily allowed the integration of off- and online media: To some, it represented not just the next big thing in marketing, but its holy grail: at last, through the codes, print media could provide that all-important link, drawing consumers from visual display advertising online and actively engaging in a business’s website.
But how many people scan the codes? Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but even anecdotal evidence suggests not many. Why, given how easy they are to use, do we not see
more people doing so?
There are a number of factors, and these centre on the way QR codes have been deployed and employed, rather than the codes themselves. Firstly, QR codes have suffered from a lack of consumer education. To work, they must be scanned with a smartphone: while many people have smartphones not everyone either knows of the app to be downloaded in order to scan the codes, or has the patience to do so. The message of what to do to scan the codes – and the rewards accruing to consumers for doing so – has never been communicated. Rather, QR codes have almost stealthily been introduced as an unspoken compliment of the digital revolution, something to be seen but not heard.
QR codes also suffer from their ubiquity – it seems that they are to be found everywhere, from back-page advertisements on magazines to the back of busses. To be scanned, QR codes needs to be stationary (not to mention neither too big nor too small, or printed on a reflective
Another barrier to widespread adoption lies in miss-use of QR codes by marketers and companies. While the codes are relatively easy to generate, oftentimes the codes do not deliver on their promise – either the content to which the consumer is directed is not in rich-media format or mobile-enabled (thereby failing to enhance user experience and engagement), relevant to consumer expectations (therefore disrupting the dialogue that the original point of engagement promised), or worse, does not work at all. In the early stages of their deployment, like all new technologies, QR codes suffer from a ‘one-strike’ policy: if the keen consumer is left frustrated by the experience, s/he is extremely unlikely to want to repeat it. Great marketing loses its effectiveness when no-one bothers to check where the message wants to go.
However, these may just be the teething problems of any innovation, and select case studies point to the huge potential for QR codes in smart marketing. One such example is that of Tesco Homeplus in South Korea, which uses QR codes to allow for simple, smart shopping: QR codes are deployed alongside photos of products in virtual shelves in metropolitan underground stations: consumers just scan the codes of the products they want and purchase via their mobile to have their shopping delivered to their home.
The potential for QR codes to allow for enhanced tracking is also only starting to be realised: in one example, USPS client QCI Direct, who used QR codes in a USPS promotion,admits it did not track code usage, but plans on rectifying this omission this year. By helping clients realise the fuller potential of QR codes, USPS itself has witnessed a 39% increase in code usage by advertisers this year compared to 2011, with a jump from 3% to 34% in uptake of the mobile barcodes on standard mail items during the July-August promotion last year. QR codes need to demonstrate their effectiveness to justify marketing spend.
In conclusion, the uptake of the QR code by marketers has been positive, but poor execution has retarded uptake among consumers and their general adoption into the integrated retail experience. (It also probably does not help that no-one is effectively talking to consumers about ‘integrated’ shopping.) Much remains to be done before QR codes deliver fully on their potential: they pack a lot of promise, but consumers remain to be convinced that they can deliver rewarding experiences. Future success will depend on their doing so.
Source: Direct Marketing Flash - 14 June 2012