Why Retailers Should Embrace QR Codes (+ Examples of How to Use Them Well)

How brands and retailers can use QR codes to better engage their customers

QR codes in retail

QR codes seem to be everywhere – retail stores and marketing teams are using them to enhance customer experience, and the benefits are endless. Keep reading to learn more about why retailers should embrace QR codes, as well as examples of how to use them well.

What is a QR Code?

Before we get into ways your brand can leverage QR codes for retail marketing, let’s start with the basics: what is a QR code?

A QR code is a special type of barcode that stores information in a square grid made of pixels. The advantage of a QR code is that it can host vast amounts of data, can be scanned from any angle, and provides access to its data in an instant. In fact, that’s where the code gets its name - QR stands for quick response!

Thanks to their versatility, QR codes can be used for anything – supply chain management, marketing, contact tracing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more. For example, you can use QR codes to directly link users to your website, app on the app store, or payment gateway.

A Quick History on QR Codes

The first QR code was developed in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota in order to more easily track car parts and vehicles as they were manufactured. While traditional barcodes could only be scanned vertically, this new type of barcode could be scanned at many angles and was easily identifiable so manufacturers could boost productivity and accuracy.

Although they were effective, QR codes were not always as prevalent or convenient to use as they are now. When they were initially developed, you needed access to a QR code reader to be able to use them.

So, what happened when users downloaded a special QR reader app only to be led to a basic promotional page or the same website landing page they could have googled? Many were turned off and felt that the effort wasn't worth the trouble – which caused the adoption of QR codes to suffer significantly.

Why They’re Popular Now – The Impact of COVID on the Technology

You may be wondering: if QR codes had such a rough start, how are they so popular now?

What really spurred the adoption of QR codes was smartphone manufacturers efforts to support scanning them with their devices' native camera apps. Companies like PayPal, Amazon, and Apple then began to integrate QR codes into mobile phones and terminals for payment purposes.

The global COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated the use of this technology in the retail industry specifically. Contactless payments and hands-free interactions were the keys to keeping customers engaged during the pandemic since users did not want to touch a payment terminal or interact with physical marketing materials.

Brands like Coca-Cola used QR codes to dispense drinks without any contact, and sports stadiums leveraged the technology to manage contact tracing.

According to Juniper Research, over 1.5 billion people accessed a QR code in 2020 - this number is expected to rise to 2.2B by 2025.

Learn More about Online to Offline Commerce

Omnichannel brands are all about connecting the digital and the physical world, and QR codes are just one way to do that. Learn more about how you can encourage customers to move between channels more seamlessly with our rundown of the power of online to offline commerce.

The Advantages of QR Codes

The primary advantage of QR codes is that they allow you to incorporate digital content into the physical world. By scanning a barcode, users can bridge the gap between what they are experiencing in-person to something online.

Here’s an example: You want to share a video about your product with folks who walk by your store. If you placed your video on a large TV in your store window, maybe people would stand by and watch it. But that would require you to keep the video running on loop, protect the hardware it’s displayed on, and would also require people to stand in front of your window in order to watch the whole video.

But with a QR code, everything about this situation is improved: you can affordably display a QR code on your store window for passers-by to scan, and they can watch your video on their own time on their own devices. This type of ongoing customer engagement can take retail marketing to a new level.

What Content Should You Share via QR Code?

It is important to keep best practices in mind when you share QR codes, though. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your customers or take them to a page that doesn’t add value or grab their attention – not to mention one that doesn’t work properly.  

With that in mind, there are a few things that you should always include along with your QR code display, such as a call-to-action. You want your customers to perform a certain action after scanning the code, whether that's making a purchase or leaving a review – so tell them what the QR code is for before they scan it!

That call-to-action and the QR code should be seamlessly incorporated into your product or ad design. It should not look out of place, but rather blend in naturally to its environment.

Since each QR code should serve a purpose, you should also have a method of tracking the codes you display. You can measure the success of the marketing campaign by tracking how frequently users interact with the barcode or how often they performed the desired action.

5 Ways to Use QR Codes to Grow Your Retail Business

Let’s dive into 5 ways you can use QR codes to grow your business: on your product packaging, at checkout, on outdoor marketing, on your storefront, and the products themselves.

1.     On Your Product Packaging

One of the most effective uses of QR codes is on your product packaging. Strategically placing these barcodes on your products’ exterior can help customers learn more about your product before they buy it. It can even let them access a coupon to encourage them to purchase.

Other details like nutritional information or assembly instructions can also be added to QR codes on packaging to motivate a purchase. Not only does this save space on the packaging design, but it also makes things more convenient and available in an evergreen way - customers can continue to investigate the product without actually having your packing in front of them.

2.     At the Check-Out Counter

Consider adding QR codes at your check-out counter as well. Your check-out area is a great opportunity to give users a discount code or ask for feedback. If you can capture the customer experience at the source, you will get an honest and accurate review!

3.     On a Billboard or Other Outdoor Marketing

You can also place QR codes on billboards or other out-of-home (OOH) marketing materials. If someone sees your ad, the barcode makes it very convenient for them to learn more about your brand and access the landing page for that specific marketing campaign. This method of engagement broadens the ways you can capture those who see your billboard and also makes performance tracking even easier for you.

4.     On Your Storefront

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, you can also place QR codes on your storefront in order to grow your business and drive sales. 

Think about it this way – not every customer who walks by your store has the time to enter and shop around. Why not create opportunities to meet those customers who only have time to snap a photo? Everyone loves a discount or a coupon, so use a QR code to tell your customers about the latest promotion or ways they can save when they shop online.

5.     On Your Products

Another way that you can use QR codes is on your products themselves. While packaging may get thrown out, QR codes on products live on for as long as the customer uses them.  

Use the QR code to link your social media accounts so that customers can share their experience using your products with other customers or potential customers. Encourage users to engage with communities related to your brand so that they can stay up to date with new developments, events, or product launches and provide reviews or feedback.

QR codes are a rapidly-growing technology resource that businesses of any kind can use to strengthen relationships with customers and increase sales. Especially in retail where staying top-of-mind is becoming more challenging every day, building QR codes into your retail marketing strategy can create new opportunities for engaging customers and introducing them to new products, services, or ways to connect with your brand.