May 15

Do Consumers Really Scan QR Codes?

During the 2011 Christmas season, Sears ran an interesting digital outdoor-mobile campaign. Taking a cue from Tesco’s incredible QR code campaign, Sears built and deployed a number of outdoor executions to test whether consumers would scan QR codes to learn more about and ultimately purchase the some of the hottest toys of the season.

But the campaign was more than just another holiday promotion, it was really a bit of digital R&D on Sears part. According to Julia Fitzgerald, Chief Digital Engagement Officer at Sears Holdings Corporation, Sears faces a problem that was very similar to Tesco’s — not enough stores to compete.

You might think that is pretty crazy given Sears has over 890 Sears Department Stores nationwide, but think about it. If you add up all of the Toys-R-Us stores, Walmarts, Targets, and let’s not forget Amazon or just the WWW in general, well, Sears is seriously lacking in store fronts in the USA.

Enter the Tesco example. Can you say lightbulb moment?

So Sears set forth to test the idea of QR codes as mobile bridge and shopping activator. But just to be safe, they also included a short URL that took the consumer to a mobile friendly shopping landing page.

Now, a couple of interesting notes of context provided to me by Julia during an interview she was kind enough to provide to me.

Three QR Code Campaign Best Practices

  1. Include instructions on your displays and ads that tell the consumer what to do. In Sears’ case, they had the red circle with Snap. Shop. and a QR code with “shop all” next to it. Was that enough “instruction” for the average consumer? Maybe or maybe not. Be sure to check out one of the interesting results Sears shared with me and then decide.
  2. Consider location context. Sears placed their installations where the consumer would have “dwell time” (I love that term) like airports, bus shelters, movie theater lobbies, and one that I thought was a fabulous idea food courts in malls. Again, be sure to see the results section for another really interesting piece of learning re: location of your QR enabled advertising.
  3. Always provide a short URL option. You’ll notice that Sears nails this with a short URL that is easily findable and quite easy to type. Users that entered the URL on their mobile phone were taken to a mobile friendly Sears store that featured the toys you saw on the installation. In fact, if you enter on your mobile phone you can see the site as it is still live.

Results of Sears’ QR Code Campaign

While Julia couldn’t release any specific stats, she was kind enough to share a number of great lessons from the campaign.

First, consumers favored the short URL option over the QR codes. According to Julia, there was significantly more activity coming in over the short URL option than the QR code scan option. This could be a function of a number of factors including lack of consumer awareness about QR codes, lack of installed QR readers on phones or maybe as simple as not enough “education” copy on the installations explaining what the QR codes are and how they could be used.

Second, placement/location matters. If she did this campaign again, Julia might not be so quick to place installations in malls. While yes, mall shoppers are there to ahhh shop, mall placements are difficult because you don’t find out where you’re going to show up in the mall until the last minute. Additionally, often Sears wasn’t able to secure their preferred dwell time spot — next to a food court — which likely reduced the desire to scan.

Third, humans are visual animals. Based on the tracking data, the items with the biggest and cutest pictures and NOT hottest toys of the season did best in sales. Again, Julia couldn’t release any stats here but she did note that she and her team were a bit surprised to see the “hottest toys” didn’t necessarily turn out to be the best sellers on the installations. In fact, one of the toys, Chuck the Truck, which was probably a 5 on a 1-10 scale of hottest toys sold significantly more units than a number of the “hottest toys of the season” that were also on the advertisements.

Fourth, brand doesn’t necessarily matter. One of the things Liz and her team tested was the brand effect on sales. I personally love this one as so many companies might have missed this opportunity. Luckily Liz and her team didn’t and they tested brand effect by posting some of the units under the Sears brand and others under the Kmart brand (Sears owns Kmart). The result? Well there wasn’t any real difference. A Sears branded installation was just as likely to generate scans and mobile URL activity as a Kmart installation.

What can you learn from Sears’ QR Code Experiment?

Well in addition to the learning above, I think there is one really important point you should take away from the Sears example.

As Liz put it so perfectly, “the key marketing challenge of getting consumers’ attention hasn’t changed. What has changed is the execution platform for gaining that attention.”

That’s why smart brands have to be engaging in Digital R&D. As Liz put it, “You have to be putting a lot of chips out there to see which ones cash in…”

But what about you? Is your company investing in Digital R&D? Are you building small scale, real world experiments to ensure you’re able to stay ahead of your competition? If not, why not?

Other QR Posts You May Like

Here are a list of my other QR Code posts that you may find helpful.

And hey, if you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing so you can have posts from this blog sent directly to your eMail in box. And don’t worry, I’ll never share your email with anyone and I don’t send anything but blog posts… because that’s not what your here for right?

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mobile, QR Codes, retail

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