QR codes are gaining momentum as they increasingly appear on shelf tags, in-store posters and product packaging
Dave's Killer Bread is getting attention at retail — and not just because of its name.
All those who walk down the bread aisle at any PCC Natural Markets store can find out more about the organic, whole-grain bread by using their smart phone to take a picture of a shelf tag.
That's because the shelf tag features a quick-response code, a two-dimensional (2D) barcode that wirelessly connects cell phone users to websites, photos, videos and other content. In Dave's case, the QR code provides a link to a video about the company.
“It connects the offline world with the online world,” said Ricardo Rabago, social media specialist for PCC, Seattle.
While Dave's provided the shelf tags used by PCC, the retailer is active in QR codes on its own. It currently has QR codes on in-store posters that promote the Non-GMO Project, a third-party verification program. The Non-GMO Project tests products to ensure that those that claim they are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) actually are.
By snapping a picture of the code, shoppers see detailed info about the project.
“The QR code lets our customers receive much more information than we ever could put on a poster,” he said.
PCC also uses QR codes in circular ads that shoppers can scan to call up a video on how to select a melon.
“It lets us engage the customer and give them a better shopping experience,” Rabago noted.
Rabago declined to reveal specific usage numbers, except to say the numbers show that people are “interested” in mobile barcodes. He expects usage to grow as more people become familiar with the technology.
“It's still early,” Rabago said. “As behavior changes, the numbers will increase.”
Dave Dahl, vice president of Dave's Killer Bread, agreed that a learning curve is only natural. He has high hopes that 2D codes will advance in supermarkets as shoppers get more comfortable with the technology.
He compared it to the advent of Twitter and Facebook, which also weren't heavily used at food retailers in the early stages.
Food retailers and manufacturers are now actively involved in both forms of social media because they know how important it is to have a conversation with their consumer base, said Dahl. QR codes enable them to do that more quickly and efficiently, he added.
While an increasing number of companies are using QR codes in print advertising, companies are also finding use for them on TV.
Bluefly, an online store for discounted designer clothes and accessories, is using QR codes in commercials for its “Closet Confessions” ads on the Bravo channel. Closet Confessions feature celebrities giving tours of their closets. When the cell phone is pointed at the on-screen barcode, the user is linked to a longer version of the closet tour. Viewers are also offered a $30 discount on a $150 purchase at bluefly.com.
Calvin Klein, meanwhile, got noticed when it used billboard ads in New York and other cities featuring a massive QR code, along with the tag line, “Get It Uncensored.” The codes could be scanned with a cell phone at street level to reveal a racy ad for Calvin Klein X Jeans.
The HBO television series “True Blood” also reportedly used them in an ad to give viewers an exclusive clip from the upcoming season.
What makes QR codes so intriguing to marketers is that anyone with a mobile device and a barcode scanning application, several of which are available for free on the Internet, can use them at the point of purchase.
As smart phone use grows, so will the use of mobile barcodes. About 50% of all mobile phone users are projected to have a smart phone capable of reading QR codes by next year, up from the current 25% to 35%.
Two-dimensional codes make sense for supermarkets because they hold more data than other codes, according to Michael Becker, North America managing director of the Mobile Marketing Association, New York.
They can link to a URL, product website or an informational video, or be used for product comparison, customer reviews and even competitive pricing.
This is especially beneficial to supermarkets, where shoppers make the majority of purchasing decisions inside the store.
“People are using their mobile device as a purchase-enabling tool,” he said. “It gives them a way to obtain information in real-time at the point of purchase to make an informed purchasing decision.”
Shoppers want mobile technology to help them make food-purchasing decisions, according to “The Interactive Future of Food,” a study from consultancy Latitude, Beverly, Mass. Of nearly 100 respondents, more than half (56%) expressed a need for additional product information — such as health, food origins, organic vs. non-organic, farming practices and food safety — when purchasing food.
Thirty percent said they prefer to get such added information via a mobile phone, while 16% specifically mentioned QR codes, radio-frequency identification (RFIDs) and other barcode scanning. The Web-based survey was conducted in February.
“It suggests that having access to information in real time — at those critical decision-making moments — is often the missing link between intent and action,” said Neela Sakaria, Latitude's senior vice president.
Ethical Bean Coffee Co., Vancouver, British Columbia, is using QR codes on product packaging of its Fair Trade Certified coffee. The coffee is sold in brick-and-mortar stores in Canada, as well as in the U.S. at online retailer amazon.com.
When shoppers scan the QR code with their mobile device, they can get detailed information about the coffee, including when it was roasted and by whom.
“It lets us have a conversation with our consumers,” said Viren Malik, Ethical Bean's sales director.
QR codes help it provide transparency in terms of how the coffee is sourced and roasted, said Malik.
“Coffee drinkers are passionate about where coffee comes from,” Malik noted.
Ethical Bean is exploring other uses for QR codes, such as sending coupons to shoppers if they scan the code while in-store.
Adopting QR codes required a significant investment in terms of creating the coding and changing product packaging. But it was well worth the effort in terms of helping Ethical Bean stand out from the many other coffees on the shelf, said Malik.
Other consumer packaged goods companies are also getting involved.
Heineken used 2D barcodes on packaging over the summer to provide customers with music trivia, brand messaging and other information, according to David Javitch, vice president of marketing for mobile barcode solutions provider ScanBuy, New York.
Along with creating the Heineken campaign, ScanBuy is also behind the Bluefly ads, as well as QR codes currently rolling out on packaging for S.C. Johnson & Son's new Scrubbing Bubbles automatic shower cleaner. Shoppers who scan the codes can see a video that explains the product and how it works.
“The growth of [QR codes] is moving quickly, as people realize it's an easy way to get information,” Javitch said.
While smart phones are the primary delivery device, ScanBuy has a QR application that works on non-smart phones.