QR codes connect consumers on their own terms with ease, speed to digital world

February 4th, 2011 | Posted by Bill Heaven in Mobile Commerce | QR codes | Smartphones

Remember back in 1992 when the 2D MaxiCode starting showing up on UPS shipping labels?  It’s likely that you may because multi-channel merchants are keenly aware that these one-inch squares “talk” to hand-held scanning devices used by shipping, receiving and delivery personnel and can convey digitally encoded information such as: purchase order numbers, customer references, invoice numbers, tracking numbers and more.  However, this black bulls-eye surrounded by a pattern of dots remains silent to most.

QR Code

(above) This is how a QR Code looks. Take a picture with your QR reader enabled smartphone to instantly link to the BCF Commerce website by Phoenix Systems Group, Inc.

Now fast forward about 20 years. Who would have thought that our cell phones would hold the “key” to unlocking the mystery of MaxiCode’s more accessible cousin, the QR Code? This less prevalent square ink blotch was dubbed the Quick Response (QR) code because of how easily and quickly its data matrix can be decoded to connect users in the physical world to the digital universe. QR Codes can be read by a dedicated barcode reader or by your smartphone.

Increasingly, U.S. consumers are encountering QR codes on a variety of touchable mediums such as magazines, movie posters, business cards and presentations, product packaging, retail displays, billboards (if you’re real tall), t-shirts, and more.  But the concept of this digitally-encrypted square isn’t exactly new, as the QR code is believed to have originated in the early 1990s in Japan where a Toyota subsidiary was using it to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process.  

So why the sudden rush now to stamp everything marketers can put their hands on with QR codes?

Marketers’ crush on QR codes started elsewhere on the globe, not in North America. In fact, some analysts were speculating at least three years ago that the U.S. would be a slow adopter because of the state of our mobile technology. However, as wireless technologies improve and consumers shift to smartphones and other mobile devices, some businesses are falling head-over-heels with this opportunity to connect with consumers on their own terms with ease, speed, and want.

  • Ease – Mobile phones and devices are not the easiest thing to type on, so QR codes take the pain out of typing in a long URL, avoiding typos and detours away from the intended website destination.
  • Speed– Once you verify that your smartphone or wireless device, like an iPod touch, is equipped with a special QR code reader, it only takes an a few seconds for the QR code to deliver the content. In fact, if you blink an eye when snapping the photo, you might think it didn’t work until you realize it has opened a website, image or video, or it has displayed a phone number for you to dial. It’s really quick.
  • Want – Part of the QR technology’s charm is that consumers are able to “pull” the message or content when and where they want instead of getting it “pushed” to them.  This makes for a much more positive reception for the marketer’s message because it is wanted by the consumer.

Keep in mind that unlike the MaxiCode’s smaller capacity size, QR Codes have the ability to store large amounts of data.  Specifically, a QR code can store nearly 4,300 alpha numeric characters or 7,000 numeric (only) characters.  While its ample storage capacity opens up many opportunities for multi-channel merchants, the international organization of QR Code enthusiasts recommend three simple rules for basic use:  

  1. Mobilize your landing page.
  2. Keep the URL short.
  3. Make the content valuable.

According a Nov. 1, 2010, Nielson Wire report, ”Twenty-eight percent of U.S. mobile subscribers now have smartphones”  and some estimate that 50% of subscribers will have them by 2012. Predictions that U.S. marketers would take their time before diving into QR codes may have been on target, but now there seems to be no stopping this technology since smartphones and other mobile devices have built-in readers or access to free QR code reader apps that can be downloaded to translate the QR code into:

  • - URLs for companies or social networking websites that can be clicked.
  • - Phone numbers that can be dialed.
  • - Simple text messages that can be viewed.  
  • - Encoded contact information that can be saved to your contacts.
  • - SMS / MMS text messages all set to send.
  • - Digital media such as a video or music ready to enjoy.

Learn more about the cool ways companies are already using QR codes.

The possibilities are endless, but how and when will your multi-channel business tap into the power of QR codes? Let us know what you’re thinking below!  

And, the next time you see a QR code, take a picture with your smartphone and don’t blink an eye.

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