Cracking the QR code

Topics: Channel / Retail, FMCG, Home Previews, Point of Purchase, Shopper marketing

QR and other mobile media codes offer a wealth of pre-store and instore marketing opportunities when used the right way, suggests ShopAbility, for Retail World Magazine.

“The QR code is dead. Long live the QR code.”

Well, at least that’s where they are at in the USA. In the April 2012 edition of the US trade publication ‘Shopper Marketing Magazine’ alone there were 16 QR Codes in a 56-page publication, which indicates just how common QR Codes are in the US. Most are for agencies and direct the user to a website, Facebook page or specific download. But in general they are pretty uninteresting, slow to load and not particularly engaging when you get there in the end.

So, given that QR codes and other mobile code media are in their relative infancy here in Australia, we have the opportunity to learn from, and avoid, some of the US mistakes.





QR Codes are used to access further content, not an end in themselves. And they are just one type of code that can be scanned by a smartphone. The number and types of codes are increasing. Some examples:

  • Digimarc: is a ‘digital watermark’, an invisible hyperlink that can be embedded in different types of media in order to access interactive online content. Publications such as Who Weekly use a digimarc Iphone icon with an arrow. The digimarc app means you simply scan the Iphone/arrow icon and you are immediately taken to added content videos of celebrities, fashion etc. From a retail and shopper point of view digimarc can be used to download coupons, product lists etc. Check out
  • Blippar:: is an image-recognition phone app used for augmented reality and instantaneous content. Users scan the blippar code on packs and point of sale and are shown on their smartphones content ranging from recipes to retailer specific promotions. Check out
  • Traditional barcodes:  Sniip and other platforms are able to use existing product barcodes and build further content around them. Sniip for instance is an open platform that uses not only QR codes but also traditional and existing barcodes that retailers might have on their swing tags. Sniip shoppers can purchase items instantly by linking into the retailer’s back office rather than linking to a website for purchase. Sniip platform can also include value added content such as product information, music and video clips, usage/care/instruction information, mailing/subscription list and loyalty program membership joining. It’s an Australian-developed platform using cloud based technology. See


And those are just 3 technologies we’ve encountered in the past 12 months, we expect to see this marketplace heat up considerably.


We also anticipate that very soon, codes will start to be used fairly quickly as an alternative to PayWave as a purchase mechanism for small purchases.







Part of the reason shoppers are jaded in the US is that QR codes have been used to replace the web address (we’ve seen a bit of this starting to happen here in Australia too) or link to a website.


To any marketers here using codes for this purpose: STOP IT. NOW.


Shoppers are looking for value added content, not just to access your existing website via a different means. Codes  need to link to unique or added value content and in a medium that is different to the one you accessed it from.


Codes and digital watermarks need to help shoppers with more entertainment, information, education or to transact. Or to make the transaction faster/more easy. An example is the QR code based boarding passes Qantas now send to your smartphone via text message with a QR code link. This enables you to get through the airport quicker via a faster checkin and without bits of paper, as your phone becomes your boarding pass.


Some examples of good use of code hyperlinks to online content include:

  • The Macy’s Backstage Pass campaign, where QR codes link shoppers to videos of fashion designers talking about how to style up and accessories clothing items and outfits. This adds value to the shopping experience and personalizes it
  • JC Penney’s Christmas gift tag, which had a QR code which when scanned you could hear the personal message recorded by the gift giver adding a personal touch via technology.




In a presentation at the recent US Shopper Marketing Summit in Chicago, which our crew member Alison attended recently, the VP Marketing and Strategy from Vestcom called out the good, the bad and the ugly of QR codes. ‘Good’, as discussed above, is the user being directing to a mobile enabled website or application which provides valuable information and potentially entertainment or ability to link through to purchase a product.

The ‘bad’ is linking to a website which is not enabled for mobile use. And the ‘ugly’ is linking to a webpage which is not able to be viewed at all on a mobile device.

And as mentioned earlier, just using codes to link to your existing website turns shoppers off, because they don’t know what they are meant to do once there. The linked content needs to be specific.





As we’ve discussed in other articles, Australia has the second highest smartphone penetration in the world (nearing 60% by end of 2012). Google forecasts that by end 2012 there will be as many mobile google searches as PC-based searches. Mobile technology and platforms such as Sniip are enabling shoppers to buy from wherever they are. Multichannel is fast becoming the norm. Shoppers expect access and engagement wherever they might be.


So the mobile technology game is stepping up and allows you to interact with shoppers, and for them to transact with you, both before and outside of the store environment as well as in it (“What you are looking for not in stock? Scan the code and order online!”)


Shoppers now expect that they should be able to access all of the same information and experiences that they can have online in a physical store. Otherwise, what is the point of going into a physical store if the online environment is superior? Given that shoppers can get information prestore through active search (Zero Moment of Truth), this comes back to the role of the store adding value in providing education, entertainment, and personalized SERVICE.


How will you harness the opportunities in this new mobile enabled shopping universe, both prestore and instore?