Cracking the QR code

WE WERE A BIT AHEAD OF THE CURVE at Multichannel Merchant when we ran a cover story on QR codes back in October 2008. These funny looking, two-dimensional barcodes are going to be huge, we promised. Just you wait.

Well, it’s been a longer wait than we thought, but three years later quick response codes are now appearing more in catalogs, on retail store signage and on mainstream marketing pieces.

What’s been the holdup? The lag in smartphone adaptation in the U.S. is probably the biggest reason.

Then there’s the general unfamiliarity with the technology among consumers, and frequent user failure. (Where do I get the code reader again? Why isn’t it working when I scan the barcode?)

I can understand why catalogers have been slow to include them in print. QR codes aren’t pretty, and they take up valuable real estate in print that’s wasted if readers either don’t know what to do with them or just don’t bother scanning them. But as both merchants and consumers see the benefits of QR codes, we’ll start to see a lot more of them.

Where are we with m-commerce? Forrester Research’s Mobile Commerce Forecast 2011, released in June, predicts mobile commerce will reach $31 billion by 2016 — that’s a compounded annual growth rate of 39%. Still, m-commerce is expected to make up only 7% of all ecommerce sales in five years. So we have a ways to go.

The promise of mobile commerce was that it would enable consumers to research and buy products right from their phones when they can’t get to a store. That is a major advantage, but as our cover story “Mobile Connectivity” reveals, many shoppers are now using their smartphones in the stores.

And they’re not just comparing prices — and then buying the item with their phones if they find it online for less. Rather, shoppers are using their smartphones to watch video demonstrations of the product, check user ratings and reviews, and so on. And then, if they’re sold on it, they’re buying the item from the store.

So rather than cannibalizing store sales, smartphones are helping the retail channel by acting as a virtual salesperson and helping to close the deal. Mobile is enhancing the customer’s store experience and driving retail sales. Who knew?

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