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Cracking the QR code

The QR code will be one of the biggest revolutions to hit North American retail over the next three years.

Have I got your attention yet? A Quick Response (QR) code is essentially a two-dimensional barcode. It looks like some sort of alien puzzle (mine is shown below). But it’s capable of storing large amounts of data that can be decoded, as the name suggests, quickly.

First created by a Japanese company in 1994, the technology’s application has evolved far beyond its initial purpose of tracking auto parts in manufacturing. The reason? QR codes are an easy-to-use, easy-to-adapt technology that will have a huge impact on how consumers interact with products right inside the store.

Accessing the QR code is simple. All new smart phones, like the iPhone, come with a QR code reader as a standard feature. Once the reader is activated, the user simply aims their camera at the QR code and within two to three seconds it prompts the launch of a website link, which can be viewed immediately on the user’s phone.

So why should people in the grocery industry care? Just as the Internet changed the way we consume media, these mighty little codes will change the way we receive product information, linking the “finite” world of print to the “infinite” communication opportunities made possible via the Internet.

Imagine walking through a grocery store where you see a poster featuring a mouth-watering rack of lamb prepared with a gourmet sauce. Sounds appetizing, but it’s useless unless you have the recipe. Now imagine that same poster with a QR code on it. In a matter of seconds, you’ve not only downloaded the recipe to your phone, but you also know the other ingredients you need to buy. Or maybe you’re shopping “green” one day and happen to pick up a Clorox Green Works product. By choosing to scan the on-pack code, you instantly gain access to additional product information, plus 50 great tips for “greening up” your home.

Is your mind spinning with ideas? It should be because thanks to this simple code, in-store packages, signs and point-of-sale information become a portal to a new stream of information that can influence consumer behaviour. Think of QR codes as an invitation for consumers to engage and learn more about your products while they shop.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff either. In Japan, where smart phone penetration is almost 100%, QR codes have become a common part of everyday life–from product purchases to business cards to gravestones. North America is simply following suit and the best advice is to stay informed.

Of course, it’ll take awhile. The number of people with smart phones in the U.S. and Canada is still relatively low compared to Europe or Asia. Plus, as I mentioned, four out of five people here don’t even know what a QR code is. So even if they saw one, they wouldn’t know to point their phone at it to receive all sorts of information. Just adding a QR code to product packages or in-store signage won’t be enough to move the needle, yet.

But as we’ve already seen with the iPhone and other new technologies, once they take off, there’s no stopping them. So think of the possibilities. As smart phone penetration reaches its peak here, this little code will be primed to penetrate quicker than, well…you can scan a QR code.

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