When QR, or Quick Response, bar codes were first introduced, their use was restricted to one commercial industry. In 1994, the Japanese company Denso Wave, then a division of Denso Corporation, began using them to track auto parts for Toyota Motor Corporation.
It wasn’t until 2010 that QR codes were introduced to the general public, and no one could have predicted how effective they would become at improving a consumer’s shopping experience.
During the pandemic, restaurants resorted to QR codes that linked diners to online menus, allowing touchless ordering as an alternative to hard-copy menus.
Today, those cute but mysterious-looking, square-encased pixel swirls are experiencing a revival that is transforming how customers browse, shop, share data, discover product information, and interact with brands and associates. And it all leads to greater efficiency in operations, data analysis, merchandising, sales, and even staffing. QR codes are now seen on TV ads, in mall and airport kiosks, on food products—anywhere that will potentially capture consumers’ attention, deliver them a wildly improved experience, and foster coveted engagement levels.
According to insiderintelligence.com, the number of U.S. smartphone users scanning a QR code will increase from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025.
Many retailers have readily glommed onto the ease of using QR codes for frictionless payments, which send shoppers to a merchant’s site to complete transactions. Some other ways retailers are using QR codes include:
- BOPIS. The buyer receives a QR code via a retailer’s app, then shows it to an employee at the store’s pickup counter for them to pull the order.
- Tableside bill payment. Diners scan a QR code on a paper bill, allowing full payment plus tip, which can include check splitting.
- Self-service purchasing. Shoppers with store accounts register with a QR code generated by the retailer’s mobile app. Upon scanning the code, the customer can grab items, and as they leave, the account is automatically charged.
- Mobile advertising. Shoppers scan a QR code placed on an ad that gives them access to special discounts, coupons, and other promotional offers.
- Product information. Shelf and product tags with QR codes allow customers to gain instant access to virtual brand experts who can offer immediate, detailed product and brand information that is otherwise not easily available, especially valuable in understaffed stores.
The benefits of QR codes to brands and shoppers alike are plentiful. Employees have more time to provide better service and boost efficiency, and customers—used to Googling and getting instantaneous responses to their questions—appreciate the ease with which they can gain comprehensive information on the spot. They can also complete transactions faster and enjoy overall greater satisfaction. Imagine them scanning a QR code on a shelf and a link to a virtual brand expert appears, with whom they can chat via phone, text, or video to get their questions answered. It’s truly a win-win proposition—one that could give brick-and-mortar retailers a competitive edge.
Since shoppers are nearly always connected to their smart devices, QR code technology is a seamless way to keep customers engaged and focused on specific products, brands, and/or messages that can lead not only to memorable but repeat experiences.
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