Why Catalogers Should Try QR Codes

Apr 05, 2011 9:32 PM  By

Have a QR code reader? This one will take you to the website for MCM Live, a merchant-only event being held by Multichannel Merchant May 3-4 in New York City. Scan it to learn more, or go to http://multichannelmerchant.com/mcmlive

We’re starting to see an uptick in the use QR codes by retailers. Most recently, Home Depot added the 2D barcodes to certain in-store products to deliver how-to guides and product reviews to smartphone users. Macy’s used them in-store to entertain mobile device owners with “behind-the-scenes” videos.

But most of the emphasis on these 2D barcodes has been on delivering a better in-store experience, and not on driving away-from-store traffic. And with a few exceptions, such as like Pottery Barn and Sears, most are not using their catalogs to connect smartphone users to content.

And merchants with catalogs should be taking advantage of QR codes to step up their games, says Lois Brayfield, president of multichannel consultancy J. Schmid & Associates.

“They need to realize the potential of QR codes as a way of engaging customers and prospects in new ways,” Brayfield says. “Merchants can’t look at their catalogs as a transactional tool anymore; they need to see them as a device for engaging customers.”

Perhaps the biggest reasons catalog marketers should try to QR codes is to reduce the lag time from when consumers read the catalog to when they go online to order, Brayfield says. With a QR code, the catalog recipient can instantly scan the code and go direct to the site without being near his or her computer.

So what’s the best way to incorporate QR codes in your catalog? Just like the products in the book, the QR code needs a strong call to action, Brayfield says. You need to explain to the user what the code is, how to scan it, and what will see when they scan the 2D barcode.

And merchants shouldn’t try to pack their catalogs with the 2D barcodes—you don’t need with for every product, she notes. “You can’t just use QR codes in your catalog because they are cute and fun,” Brayfield says. “There needs to be a compelling reason for the user to scan the barcode.”

For example, Brayfield says she’s done QR codes with catalog client Relax The Back to drive smartphone users to a video demonstration of its back-pain relief products in action.

She also points to Sears’ holiday 2010 Wishbook, which included the codes to drive readers to product information about video game systems and flat-screen televisions.

So catalogers need to get off the sidelines with QR codes and embrace the technology before it’s too late, Brayfield says. This is also a great way for merchants to start learning about mobile commerce before they fall far behind the competition.

“There’s a hesitation to test QR codes, but catalogers need to start thinking outside the box now,” Brayfield says. “Mobile is coming, and it may overtake ecommerce before we know it.”