by Safiya Mitchell
The QR code, a machine-readable barcode containing data that often points the user to a website or app, was originally invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara for the purpose of tracking vehicles during manufacturing. Today, smart phones all have QR readers built into their camera features. Coupled with the wide availability of QR code generators online, this is a fairly simple and accessible tool. Providing a QR code that links to a retailer website seems like an easy, tech-forward way of engaging consumers. However, very few customers actually take the time to use them in the US – but why?
In a study for a major telecommunications company, Envirosell was asked to assess engagement with a gamified display in which consumers answered questions to determine which phone plan was best for them. At the end, they were given an character linked to their plan. To find out more about that character, it instructed the user to scan a QR code. Of those who did interact with the display, only 1% went as far as scanning the code. When it comes to incorporating interactive digital element into physical environments, the crucial question is: how does this help get to the end-goal of the customer journey. Anything else is just a barrier.
Five months ago, I would have said that QR codes, outside of airplane boarding passes and payment, were an unnecessary add-on in the US and unlikely to be used. In today’s pandemic world, where safety is synonymous with touchless, it’s an endless well of untapped potential that retailers should be leaning into.
New needs and opportunities
As the economy opens up and restaurants start to offer outdoor and in some places indoor dining, QR code menus are a huge asset. It’s one less thing diners have to touch, and restaurants avoid wasteful one-use paper menus. It’s also easier for the dining establishments to make last minute changes and substitutions should items become unavailable.
Many hotels have already incorporated digital key cards in their establishments. There is opportunity to take this further with contactless check-in. Receiving a QR code and loading the payment for your stay as well as photo of identification eliminates the check-in desk interaction. Within the room, QR code solutions can be used to turn visitors’ smart phones into TV remotes, helping them avoid touching what is notoriously one the least sanitary items in a hotel room.
In retail, QR codes can be incorporated into the demo process for those who want to test or interact without having to feel uneasy about touching display models. It can also be a bridge to communicate with associates in big box stores to avoid hip-to-hip interactions.
The potential is far-reaching. It’s always important to have low-tech, in-person solutions. However, providing QR codes can enhance perceptions of safety for consumers, which has become a key brand attribute in the post-pandemic world.