Recently, I received a visit at home from a religious organization, which handed me two of its publications. As I believe that every religion has some wisdom to share, I read both magazines. What really struck me was the cross-media approach of the magazines; many articles referred to a video or website, and QR codes were placed throughout. Reading this magazine, I thought back to my recent trip to the US, where I also saw many QR codes: on advertising in the subway, in stores, in magazines. However, I didn't see anyone reading those codes. Thinking about this a bit longer, I couldn’t think of any occasion when I had observed someone using a QR code.
With that in mind, I had a look at Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® 2012 surveys for both Europe and the US to understand the uptake of QR codes by the general online audience. I found that about 8% of US online adults with a mobile phone have used QR/2D bar codes in the past month — up from only 1% in 2010 and 5% in 2011. Uptake doesn't really show huge differences by age, interestingly enough, but in both the US and Europe, men are more likely to use them than women.
Over the past couple of years I have been intrigued by the concept of a 'digital wallet' that will combine mobile payments with a variety of other benefits for customers. The more people I talk to, the more convinced I am that mobile digital wallets will mark a big shift in retail payments. A mobile digital wallet is more than just a mobile payment system because it combines:
Mobile payment. Digital wallets are likely combine several different payments systems into a single service, including mobile contactless payments, online (i.e. web) payments, and over-the-network mobile payments, making it easy for customers to make a variety of different types of payment from a mobile device.
Barcode scanning. Scanning barcodes or QR codes will let customers get more information about products, and let them pay for items on their phones before showing an on-screen receipt to leave the store.
Loyalty rewards. Instead of carrying (and sometimes forgetting) a separate loyalty card, digital wallets will track customers’ spending and offer merchant-funded rewards, either on the phone or at the point of sale.
Coupons and offers. Digital wallets are likely to offer customers coupons and location-based offers.
2D bar codes are on buses, in newspapers and magazines, storefronts, product packaging, store shelves, bus stops, mailings from political candidates, and subways. Retail stores like Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s have corporate programs for 2D codes. Honestly, it is hard to name a place that I haven’t seen a 2D bar code. Hard to say if there are more codes — or more consumers scanning the codes. I think it is the former. As with many things mobile, this is more of a supply-side-driven phenomenon than demand-side.
Why are there so many codes? They are one of many mobile technologies that facilitate the connection of consumers to relevant content when they need it. Scanning bar codes simplifies the experience of discovering content or initiating an action on a cell phone like sending a message or adding a contact to a phone. Brands are doing all they can to educate consumers about what codes are and how to use them. Budweiser, for example, has designed an entire TV commercial around tags from Spyderlink on its Bud Light cartons. See the video.
Plastering codes everywhere, however, is working — adoption among US adults has increased from only 1% last year to 5% this year. Adoption among smartphone owners is three times that. While adoption is relatively low today, the strong growth in usage of the codes by brands and consumers alike indicates a bright future for brands looking to deepen their engagement with consumers. Bar codes don’t facilitate just marketing — they will be used 360 degrees around a customer’s journey — from branding or consideration through to purchase and replenishment.
Intrigued by a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve started looking for evidence of QR codes transforming how shoppers are interacting with retailers. The thing is all the evidence I see with my own eyes doesn’t back up this proclaimed uptake. I’ve never noticed a single one in a shop. Now, that could be because I’ve not been looking and if I’m honest, I’ve only had a phone capable of reading them for a few months.
Time for a quick bit of ad-hoc analysis (Health Warning: NOT OFFICIAL FORRESTER RESEARCH !!!)
In order to give this mini research project some vague semblance of credibility, I have adopted the rigorous scientific approach that Mr. Featonby, my A-level physics teacher drilled into me many years ago . . .
My hypothesis is that retailers aren’t using QR codes in the UK, and furthermore, the average shopper hasn’t a clue what one is.
I went to the local Tesco Metro and browsed the aisles, looking at every product I could find.
I’ve looked through every store magazine and free paper and at every poster I pass in London, on the Midlands Mainline train service, and in Nottingham (where I live) for two weeks.
I posted a picture of a QR code on my Facebook page and asked my friends (average shoppers one and all!) if they knew what it was.