Leverage the QR Craze to Engage Shoppers

Posted Date: 8/19/2011

By  George Hoffman

Apparel retailers and brand owners looking to open a mobile channel for virtually unrestricted customer engagement on the selling floor and beyond, need search no further than QR (quick response) bar codes and their own imaginative merchandising practices. The increasingly ubiquitous checkerboard-like bar codes have become a staple at such big box venues as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy where they enable smartphone delivery of information on retail products ranging from potted plants to high-def TVs.
Apparel businesses are likely close behind, and those that launch early will gain a competitive advantage, especially with the young, tech-savvy demographic so coveted by clothing retailers. In 2011, the smart play for apparel retailers and brands is to set business objectives for QR bar codes and develop merchandising strategies to achieve them.
Opening the door to two-way engagement

If you’re like most retailers, chances are good that increasing interaction with customers will rank high among your QR business objectives. According to a recent Forrester Research Study, 66 percent of retailers stated their number one objective for investing in mobile technology was to increase customer engagement.
But QR codes alone will not create an engaging customer experience. It’s how you employ the technology that will determine its success. The opportunities to engage in-store shoppers via QR codes are limited only by a retailer’s or brand’s creativity. The code opens a two-way channel that can accommodate video, chat, text, images and virtually any other type of messaging. Providing additional product information is one obvious potential QR use. Helping shoppers to accessorize is another.
In each case, imaginative merchandising will be key to increasing sales.
Consider the potential for helping a shopper to accessorize. A teenage girl who wants a new look who has just fallen in love with a trendy yellow top, for instance. When she scans your QR code, will she receive a simple message on her mobile phone saying, “Thank you for shopping at Fashiontown Stores”? Or will she enter into a private merchandising session where she is presented with content and video featuring the latest teen star wearing the same blouse, coordinating capris, and the season’s newest sandals – items available in store and ready to be purchased?
The world of fashion truly lends itself to this type of merchandising. That same two-way open channel can be used to deliver instant coupons, add in-store items to wish lists, sign customer up for future email or SMS notifications and obtain customer feedback. There are fashion trends that you may want to present to your shopper. With imaginative merchandising, you can suggest a look and provide an inspirational message, one that appeals to your specific customers.
Moreover, engagements initiated by a QR scan can be extended — perhaps indefinitely — between you and the shopper and between you and the shopper and his or her peers.
For example, you can offer to alert shoppers to future sales via text message or use the occasion to sign them up with a loyalty program that includes immediate savings on current purchases. Both pave the way for continuing interaction between the retailer and likely returning customers.
Beyond that, your shopper’s in-store experience can be extended through social media links such as FaceBook. That trendy yellow top again! Your shopper can add it to platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, where her friends will be exposed to your merchandise and influenced by your customer’s implied endorsement of your store.
Product information
The more product information a retailer provides to a customer, the higher the probability that he or she will buy. That instinctive bit of retail knowledge is confirmed by a January 2011 study by Accenture, titled Retail in an Era of Mobility, which reports that  “70 percent of smart phone users would find it useful to scan the product barcode to obtain more information about the item.”

Performance apparel is a good case in point. It tends to fall into a higher pricing category and is purchased by shoppers with deep interests in understanding the item’s performance characteristics. Consider a shopper evaluating a $200 pair of running shoes. The QR code, which opens a two-way channel of engagement, enables the retailer to supply the shopper with a wealth of information, such as the shoe’s engineering, its comfort and stability, how much it allows the wearer’s foot to breathe, and customer reviews. Further, this can be presented in more engaging media formats such as video or audio which are not possible via traditional promotional tags.
Click here for a brief video on how the QR/smartphone process works.
A short course
A 2011 Google survey, titled The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users, reports that 79 percent of respondents use their smartphones to help with shopping and 70 percent use them while in a store. Of those using their smartphone for shopping, 74 percent make a purchase.
If you are thinking of making QR codes a part of your in-store shopping experience to capitalize on its enormous potential, consider the steps below as a primer for getting started:
  • Consider which products should be tagged. Does the product lend itself to accessory suggestions or other crossselling opportunities? Does the consumer spend a thoughtful period considering the purchase of this product? Does the customer usually require more information about this product?
  • Start small. Select a group of 10-15 items and implement in one pilot store.
  • Educate your shoppers and associates on the technology and how to use it.
  • Incentivize shoppers to try it out.
  • Survey shoppers to find out what they like and don’t like with the technology.
  • Measure everything, especially sales, total scans and scans per item.
Be creative! Remember, it’s how imaginatively you employ the technology that will determine your level of success.George Hoffman is president of ClikGenie, Inc., a QR merchandising solutions firm based in Charlotte, N.C. Reach him at Ghoffman@ClikGenie.com