Chances are that you’ve seen a few QR (Quick Response) codes by now – the small black and white two-dimensional bar codes that have started showing up everywhere from magazine advertisements to storefront window displays.
QR codes are a physical link that connects the online and offline world — a powerful tool businesses can use to make it simple for consumers to engage with their brand.
According to Jumpscan, QR code scanning increased by 1,200% from July to December 2010. Social media users are a key driver of this growth, with 57% of Facebook and Twitter users reporting that they’ve scanned at least one QR code in the past year. Further, according to a February survey of U.S. smartphone users by MGH, 32% of respondents said they’ve scanned a QR code. Of those, 53% said they used the code to get a coupon or discount and 72% said they were more likely to remember an advertisement with a QR code.
The QR code is a simple and effective tool that brands can integrate into their overall mobile marketing strategies to more deeply engage a new generation of digitally savvy consumers. And as smartphones continue their skyrocketing adoption rate — nearly 1 in 2 Americans will own a smartphone by Christmas 2011 — it is important for businesses to embrace the simplicity of the QR code as a way to enhance the customer experience, drive traffic, and connect with consumers wherever they are.
Here are some examples of potential use cases of QR codes that businesses in the retail and travel sectors can easily incorporate into their mobile marketing strategies.
As consumer adoption of smartphones and tablets continues to increase at a staggering rate, the retail industry has taken notice of the massive value that a comprehensive mobile strategy provides to their bottom lines. Since a new generation of consumers is increasingly using the mobile Web as a primary gateway to the Internet, the nation’s retailers are determined to more deeply engage with consumers and strengthen the link between their physical stores and the mobile Web. What retailers have quickly realized is that new mobile technologies can make shopping not only easier for consumers, but also more lucrative for themselves.
One of the most effective ways retailers can take advantage of QR codes is by integrating them into print advertisements as a vehicle to incentivize users to visit their brand on the mobile Web. After scanning a QR code in an ad, a consumer would be directly linked to a product, a special coupon or offer, or other exclusive content. Target is a great example of a retailer that has seized the opportunity to integrate QR codes into its advertising. In a recent campaign, for example, Target directed readers who scanned its QR codes to videos featuring style expert Sabrina Soto, during which she shares information and tips on how to use Target home decor and furnishing products.
Another powerful way for retailers to use QR codes is by incorporating them into the in-store experience — directing shoppers who scan the codes to enhanced product information, reviews, or other related content online. Successfully enhancing the in-store shopping experience, Macy’s recent “Backstage Pass” campaign encourages shoppers to scan QR codes included on product displays in order to access exclusive video content that provides fashion inspiration, advice, and tips from style icons and experts like Martha Stewart, Tommy Hilfiger, and others.
Additionally, Best Buy was an early mover on QR code technology and last year added QR codes to all of its product information tags. Users who scan the QR codes on Best Buy product tags are directed to the product detail page on Best Buy’s mobile site. Demonstrating the emphasis that Best Buy places on QR codes, a Best Buy executive was recently quoted by Advertising Age as saying that they view QR codes as a “personal shopping assistant.”
In addition to their consumer benefits, QR codes also present a unique opportunity for retailers to capture crucial customer information. For example, retail brands can easily include a quick sign-up area on the QR destination page that encourages visitors to enter their email address in order to receive special loyalty deals, exclusive content, or other store information.
Perhaps the most compelling use case of QR codes in the travel world is the paperless ticket, popularized by airlines like Delta, which allows travelers to use their smartphone as a boarding pass. By simply downloading the boarding pass to their phone, travelers can eliminate the threat of losing their printed boarding pass and, most importantly, save time at the airport.
A recent campaign from Jet Blue incorporated QR codes onto poster advertisements in the New York City subway system. Upon scanning the code, users were directed to a landing page where they were prompted to enter their contact information for the chance to win a free flight.
Airlines can also place QR codes in targeted advertisements within in-flight magazines. By encouraging readers to scan these codes, airlines can send customers directly to special offers or deals. Another way for airlines to greatly enhance the customer experience is by incorporating QR codes into their awards programs. By printing QR codes on awards statements or other materials, airlines can easily direct users to the online award status area.
Hotels are another logical industry where QR codes can make a big impact. On the hotel property, QR codes can be used to easily direct guests to local activity guides on their mobile phones so they can avoid lugging printed guidebooks throughout the day. This is beneficial for the guest, in addition to the hotel itself which can use these information guides to deepen relationships with local businesses.
Further, hotels can encourage guests to write online reviews of their hotels while they are still on the property — and the positive experience of their stay is still fresh in their minds — by creating a dedicated display where guests are asked to scan a QR code that directs them to an online reviews page. Finally, to encourage repeat visits and increase recommendations, hotels should integrate QR codes on referral cards they provide guests upon checkout. After scanning these codes, users should be directed to an offer to book additional rooms with a special friends and family rate.
QR Codes Enhance the Mobile Experience
Recent data from IDC states that smartphone manufacturers expect to ship over 450 million units in 2011, a more than 50% increase from the amount shipped in 2010. As smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, brands must take advantage of all available mobile tools to more deeply engage a new generation of consumers who are increasingly shopping on their own terms.
As we’ve demonstrated, QR codes represent a simple and affordable opportunity for businesses to connect smartphone users with branded digital content and enhance the shopping experience. To move the needle on overall mobile Web traffic, and increase revenue, brands must develop a plan that seamlessly integrates QR code engagement into their overall multichannel strategy.
Jason Taylor is the Vice President of Platform Strategy at Usablenet, a global technology leader in mobile and multichannel customer engagement. Usablenet’s transformative technology platform powers the
mobile sites of 20% of the Fortune 1000, including Estée Lauder, Hilton, Delta, Victoria’s Secret, FedEx, ASOS and others. Follow @Usablenet on Twitter.