Have You Been Shopping for QR Codes?

Shopping for QR CodesEver since I first saw a QR Code a couple of years ago, I have been totally fascinated by them. I started reading every article, report and blog I could find on the topic online. The more I read, the more I became convinced that this new mobile connection device would be the key to increasing print and direct mail as important and relevant communications channels.

I had unfortunately stood on the sidelines a decade or so ago when Internet communications decimated the print and direct mail industry. Like many others in the business, I was forced to play “catch up” and defend the continued use of print as a viable form of marketing communications.

Then, a few short years ago, QR Codes arrived on our shores! At that time, it seemed to me that they were the salvation that could help resurrect the direct mail industry. So, I began e-mailing articles to my customers. My goal was to help educate them about how this new device, when integrated with print, connects the Internet and mobile marketing – making print INTERACTIVE.

Much to my surprise, only those who shared my enthusiasm about QR Codes seemed to pay attention. So, I opened up a Twitter account @NScevaJr and devoted my Tweets to QR Code news, Smartphones and their relationship to direct mail and print. Every single day QR Codes are in the news and my Tweets are a testament to that fact.

However, how do others outside our industry see them? Do they know what they are and how to use them?

The Japanese see QR Codes in their daily lives. If the general U.S. population does not see QR Codes in their daily lives, will mid-size to small American marketers really integrate their use in their overall marketing efforts? Will they really become a part of the American marketing culture?

To find out, my plan is to go shopping for QR Codes as often as I can. Being a resident of a large and progressive city like Denver, CO, it shouldn’t be too hard to spot them on products or point-of-sale displays. Or, am I being too naïve?

I’m heading out to my local grocery store, Safeway, which is a large national chain. I’ll shop not only for my own personal needs, but to explore every aisle in search of QR Codes. I want to see if the general public sees them and knows what to do when they do see them.

I’ll report the results of my shopping excursion in a future blog post. At that time I’ll let you know my thoughts on shopping for QR Codes as well as which products I find that utilize them. Then, I’ll tackle area malls, restaurants, etc. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, have you been shopping for QR Codes? Share your comments below and let me know what you found as you walked the aisles of your local supermarket.

NeaL Sceva Integrated Marketing SpecialistNeal Sceva is a Certified Direct & Interactive Marketer (CDIM) and an integrated marketing solutions specialist for CPC Solutions. A 30-year veteran of the print and direct marketing industries, Neal may be reached at 303-345-5188, neals@cpcsolutions.com, or at http://twitter.com/nscevaJr


  1. Robert G. says:

    The emphasis on the code has overshadowed the fact that the code is merely a conduit to a mobile experience. The code, in and of itself, means nothing (other than printing it properly, making sure it’s the right size, low density, etc.).

    Compared to a year ago, there are QR codes everywhere now. Unfortunately, nearly all of them lead to extremely poor mobile experiences. In a proverbial nutshell, they are a waste of time.

    This isn’t the fault of the QR code or technology, it’s the fault of people who have been unable to implement QR codes properly and recognize that they sit between the initial print, or real world experience, and a mobile experience. If you don’t grok the entire end-to-end experience, you will fail your customers.

    Compared to a year ago, I hardly ever scan a QR code anymore. They no longer hold the intrigue of delivering me something special. Maybe it was too many scan-and-watch-a-YouTube-video experiences? Not sure? But I do know that like anything that saturates the market, it’s time is limited, since it quickly falls into the category of “fad.”

    Could they have been the “salvation of the Direct Mail industry?” (or, other print verticals?) Sure. If the Print companies realized they needed interactive developers to create great mobile experiences to be coupled to the print — If people had collaborated, rather than delivered everything on-the-cheap.

    Unfortunately, QR codes have now become synonymous with “cheap mobile experiences.”

    • Interesting feedback Robert. I wonder how many others feel the way you do. I haven’t heard or read feedback equating QR Codes with cheap mobile experiences. Yours is the first, but it’s “food for thought.”
      As a result, I’m thinking it might be interesting to survey others about this and perhaps address it in a future blog post. Thanks for reading Neal’s piece and contributing your point of view.

  2. The postal service just received approval to run a promotion for the period July 1 through Aug 31, offering a 3% postage discount to those utilizing a QR code on their mail piece. There are certain criteria that must be adhered to and they have published a FAQ to assist those interested parties. Getting to Roberts point, if handled correctly and collaboratively between all parties involved with the effort, this could be a positive experience.

  3. I’m afraid I’m another to only just grasp the real benefit of these little digital jewels!…but at least I have, so many people are just not getting them and realising their potential.

    This has to be my favourite so far http://bit.ly/jH85KL another is the t-shirts. You can say pretty much what you like stick it in a QR and walk down the street! Who’s going to know(In Europe anyhow, go to tokyo in the same t’shirt and you’ll probably come unstuck)

    I work in packaging and this for me is great, you can send people to the web and give them all the information they need without cramming it on the sleeve, pot or label. If only this was a recognisable as a standard here.

    The way I see it, the more we use and talk about them the more popular they’ll be in the long run. Look at iPads, nobody saw the point. Maybe Steve jobs should have been CEO of QR code Inc. 🙂

    • Tom, that link to the piece about “Hello World” certainly illustrated a creative way of implementing QR Codes. As someone involved in the world of packaging, QR Codes sound like a good fit for you and your customers. So, have you been using them already? If so, please share the results of your (or your customers’) experience. We’d love to hear about your success. Much appreciated.

  4. Hi Debra, unfortunately I haven’t had the chance yet. No clients have been that receptive to them at all, hopefully that will all change when they raise in profile in the west. I will of course post any eamples when I get the opportunity.

  5. Hello. Many thanks to Robert, Jim and Tom for your interesting and thought provoking feedback and to Debra for your help. I find it interesting that QR Codes are still somewhat controversial and that they have not quite found their niche. Robert you make an interesting point; like any response devise, if they don’t engage you or provide you with a beneficial experience, then it becomes just a “gadget” and fails the customer, just as you stated. Also, it seems to me that the advertising and design communities, at least in the U.S., have not grasped onto how to utilize and integrate this devise into campaigns and thus leading us to a gratifying mobile experience. It has, for the most part, been left in the hands of those of us in the print and direct mail marketing industries. What do you think?
    Tom and Jim, like each of you I’m hoping that they do take off and that the USPS discount program proves itself successful. However, the education factor is currently still a big hurdle and I hope those implementing a QR Code for this discount program realize that or there will be more failed customer experiences.
    In my follow-up to this article, I’m going to address some or all of these issues in more detail. So, I hope to hear from each of you again then.
    Thank you,

    • Thanks Neal – first, for writing this post to begin with. Next, for addressing @Robert’s, @Jim’s and @Tom’s earlier comments. I think we’ve all discovered that with any marketing effort there is something to learn. Some of promotions work like gems, others flop and we learn from the experience.

  6. Hi Neal, Debra and all

    Good post and excellent commentary. I had posted a couple of weeks ago on the Market Your Printing Company Linked In Group the following:

    “I stopped into a Target superstore on Wednesday — a young Mom went by pushing her toddler in a stroller and I heard her say as she scrolled thru her iPhone — “Mommy has to find her grocery list.” There goes a conventional printed product (grocery list pads) by the boards to digital convenience!

    That got me thinking — I wondered how much QR code stuff was going on at this Target, and remember, as I showed in a Blog past last year, the 2010 Target holiday catalog was chock full of QR codes. So I meandered up and down the aisles of consumer electronic products, from leading edge firms like Apple and Sony and Vizio and Garmin and not once did I see a QR code on a POP display, on a brochure, or on the product packaging — three different kinds of traditional printing, nary a QR code to be found.

    In other words, IMHO, chief marketing consultatives (they who were formerly known as sales reps) need not despair, there is much work to be done to educate clients as to the potential of these new modes of communication, and thence to deliver.”

    I will be interested Neal to see what you found in your shopping at Safeway. Perhaps some of you have seen the QR codes on plants, flowers, trees etc at some of the home improvement superstores. These codes are a bit more Mobile enabled, but as Robert correctly condemns, most of us in traditional print, saw QR codes as a quickie mktg hook and did not grasp the need for mobile development sunk costs. The agency called McLoughlin in Toronto has a lot of good info on its website about this topic.

    Neal, I highly recommend that you connect with John Foley and Jason Pinto at interlinkONE (and their subsidiary effort called iFlyMobi) if you haven’t already done so. I’ll send you a Linked In connection request so that I can hook you up with them post-haste.

    Press on Good People, Press ON!

  7. Great information and feedback on the subject of the use of QR codes. Thank you for sharing. As with any new technology, I believe there will be a short delay in the correct usage and embrace of these new codes. I wonder how long it took for the QR codes to be used properly in Japan? They have had them since 1994. That is 17 years ahead of us. As you all shared above, improving our mobile device connections, upgrading our phones and our willingness to grow with new technology will be the key to the success of the use of these codes. Are we willing to try them? To expand beyond our comfort zone and even fail a little to learn how to use them properly?

  8. As a strategic art director, I find them fascinating and just another tool to add to creative tactics, in all facets of marketing. Maybe Robert is right, or maybe he wrong. All I know is that the QR Code is not a one-dimensional process. Its up to us marketers to push it to the limit and drive quantifiable results as much as possible.

  9. Thank you Gina, Kevin and Renee! The more we promote them, utilize them in their most effective manner and educate the consumers about them; then QR Codes should become another valuable tool in the creation of a truly integrated marketing campaign. I imagine it took some time for this transition to occur in Japan and Europe also.

  10. Jim Moore says:

    We have rolled out a QR and Mobile Solutions program earlier this year and its going great. The way we are approaching it is that the QR code is nothing but a link to mobile content. We go after the development of the mobile content and the printed collateral to support the campaign utilizing QR codes.

    We try to steer clients to have us generate the QR codes to optimize scanability. We don’t take responsibility for scanability or content of codes that they provide us. If we produce the code we are sure that we have the best size based on the density of the code. When we control the process of generating the codes, we can avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes.

    We offer a tiered pricing structure ranging from a “static” code that points to a provided link or simple contact information, to a complete mobile website solution with customized landing pages and icons, video hosting guaranteed to play on any mobile device, google map links, .vcf contact cards, picture galleries, mobile coupons and virtually any kind of content that can be viewed on a mobile device.

    Being able to offer clients solutions that merge new media with traditional print media allows us to stand apart in our market as a thought leader and opens up doors to accounts that we might not have been able to penetrate before.

  11. Wow! This is great feedback! I really appreciate it. QR Codes require a conversation and a sharing of information so that we can best advise our clients. Again, the education factor and mobile experience are crucial to their overall success.
    Kevin, you have saved me from a search at my local Target store but I believe they have been strong proponents of utilizing QR Codes, as you pointed out. Thanks! Plus, I have made contact with John and Jason through Twitter; they are real leaders in mobile and QR Codes – good advise.
    I’ll hopefully have my follow-up article posted this weekend and I’ll let you know about Safeway experience and catch up on some of the exciting things that have transpired over the last couple weeks regarding QR Codes.
    Best regards,

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