The latest rise of Quick-Response (QR) codes is upon us. They were pushed heavily with their original release to the U.S. market but were met with consumer reluctance. Added convenience, integrated platforms, and greater mobile usage have opened the door for a comeback. There were 1.3 billion QR code scans in 2017 and that number is predicted to exceed 5 billion by 2022. While the vast majority of the usage comes from Japan and the United States, the surge in QR code use is global. So how do QR codes impact the world of retail? Let’s look at what they are and how retail QR code marketing can benefit your business.

  1. What Are QR Codes?
  2. How Can Small Businesses Benefit From Using QR Codes?
  3. How Does the Customer Benefit?
  4. What Are QR Code Tools for Retailers?
  5. What Are Some Creative Examples?

1. What Are QR Codes?

QR codes were developed in the 90s in Japan by a Toyota subsidiary. Their original intent was to aid with the auto supply chain and inventory on parts.

The technology allows for much more information to be stored in the code than a traditional barcode. The lines of a barcode must be read left to right, and each line simply represents a number. It’s easy for a scanner to misread a printed number, so barcodes were invented to improve accuracy.

QR codes allow for much more variation. First, the code can be read from any direction. Second, the data is contained in small black and white squares that are contained within a grid. There are various reference points scattered between the squares. This allows for a large variation on the information contained in the code. Finally, the code allows you to install text into it, rather than just a series of numbers. Below is an image from Wikimedia simply explaining the technology.

2. How Can Small Businesses Benefit From Using QR Codes?

  • At the most basic level, QR codes allow retailers to connect their eCommerce and brick & mortar stores. This contributes to creating an omnichannel retail experience.
  • Because QR codes hold so much information, retail stores have a lot of flexibility in how they implement QR codes. They are no bigger or harder to print than a regular old barcode so it’s no more of a hassle to use them.
  • You will find QR codes printed in newspapers, billboards, bus stops, magazines, retail shelves, packages, clothing, even temporary tattoos. And the licensing and creation are often free. Make sure that your POS solution can generate and process QR codes.
  • QR codes are particularly great at trade shows and conferences. Max Robinson from the fish tank retailer, Fish Tank Bank, makes a great point about this use of QR marketing:

“We had way more engagement than we expected. I think this is because we were in a room full of people who were passionate about the same things we are. We now set up a board with a QR code at every event we attend. It’s a great way to promote exclusive content.”

  • A point of sale can also print QR codes on your receipts, lengthening your time of customer engagement. A QR code linking to your social account or review page is much easier than a lengthy URL. Consider adding a coupon or discount to make it a little more enticing.
  • Moreover, they can be used to run ads, highlight promotions, improve customer service, provide customer analytics, improve logistics, help manage inventory, and prevent showrooming. As new apps are developed and mobile usage rises, its versatility will only continue to grow.
  • Most importantly, QR codes allow retailers to curate and control the customer experience on a deeper level. We’ll look more into that in a few sections.

3. How Does the Customer Benefit?

  • Simply put, QR codes improve the overall shopping experience for consumers. Shopping becomes more integrated. Loyalty programs are easier to use, review sites can be accessible as you shop, price comparisons are immediately apparent, and it creates more interaction.
  • It’s worth noting that all Apple phones now come with a built-in QR scanner. Prior to this, most consumers avoided using QR codes because of the hassle of downloading the right scanner and keeping everything organized and consolidated. The process is much more streamlined now, and consumers are responding.

4. What Are Some QR Code Tools for Retailers?

QR code is one of the many tools brick and mortar retailers are using to keep up with online competition. And there is a number of ways that it accomplishes that.

Shopping Hours

They can extend shopping hours. Customers can visit a physical retail store and scan several product QR codes. This allows them time to think about the purchase or run it by family members and complete it online after store hours.

Direct Traffic

QR codes can help businesses direct in-store traffic. Whether you have a small convenience store or a massive museum, QR codes can be strategically positioned to generate more foot traffic in certain areas.

Supplement for Retail Space

It’s also a tool that can supplement precious retail space. Most retail stores can’t possibly put every product in every size and color on the floor at once. Instead, log the additional product availability in the code so that consumers can purchase items that are off the floor.

Out-of-Stock Notifications

Additionally, they can notify customers of items that are out of stock, but allow them to order the product immediately through your eCommerce site.

Provide Reviews

QR codes can link to review websites, allowing consumers to easily judge quality and run any price comparisons.

Gather Customer Data

They can gather important data on your shoppers. You can require an email, social media account, phone number, or demographic information in order to scan a code. This is yet another way retailers are gathering data in order to make more informed decisions.

Personalize Orders

QR codes can keep track of individual scan and order histories. This allows for the shopping conversation to continue well past the point of the customer actually being in your store. For instance, a code might inform a customer of a sale on an item they had scanned in the past.

Educate the Consumer

They can be used for education purposes, too. Want to find out more about the bottle of wine you’re drinking or the statue you’re looking at? Simply scan the QR code attached or nearby. Some retailers are attaching branded, how-to videos to certain products.

Make Mobile Payments Easy

These facilitate mobile payments. More and more business is being conducted through phones, and retailers are taking advantage. Shop in-store but make the purchase online. This cuts down on lines and adds more convenience for your customers.

Make It Interactive and Fun

Some retailers are even making it into a game. QR codes can be used to create a scavenger hunt or other sort of game. Adding excitement to the shopping experience can get new customers to your store.

Eliminate Showrooming

This strategy can also be used to cut down on showrooming. Showrooming is a recent phenomenon. Consumers shop at a physical retail store, but use their mobile devices to price check and often end up ordering a similar product online from a different retailer. QR codes can help keep customers on your channel and better ensure that business isn’t going elsewhere.

Run Promotions

QR codes are easily used for coupons or promotions. Again, it’s an interactive experience for shoppers, and it makes your life easier, too. Ringing up coupons with QR codes is faster and more accurate.

Add Location Assitance

Finally, QR codes can serve as a product locator, store map, or suggest similar items. Again, it saves you from printing space-consuming information, and it keeps valuable information at the customer’s fingertips.

5. What Are Some Creative Examples?

There are plenty of ways to get creative with QR codes. They’re cheap and easy to generate. Ideally, it has a great ROI: very little risk, but a high potential (just like your email marketing campaigns!). So it’s worth trying them out in some capacity.

Before looking at some specific examples, remember that incentivizing customer engagement is the easiest way to build your QR code usage. Add a small gift or discount to their purchase if they use their scanner or sign up with their email. Remember that many consumers are still apprehensive to use new shopping technology, so you have to sweeten the pot a bit.

Turkish Airlines

During the 2012 London Olympics, Turkish Airlines organized a scavenger hunt throughout the city’s bus stops. They would have to scan information at each stop and automatically be entered to win a variety of prizes. While it didn’t directly sell air tickets, it brought attention to the company and ended up giving them over 20,000 website referrals.


Creating a sweepstake to win a smartphone through QR scans drove Verizon’s sales up by $35,000 in the one week that it was running. Verizon is known for running many QR code contests. Overall, it’s a small investment for a definite payout.

Quiring Monuments

A headstone company, Quiring has changed the funeral game with QR codes attached to a grave. The code will, hopefully, contain a memorial to the deceased. More funerals also feature QR codes for the service itself.

Glass Dance

A “QR Bar” in Tokyo now only accepts drink orders that are QR scanned from their menu, The only catch is that you must also pay through a specific app that must be downloaded. This inconvenience might turn some away, but as the technology becomes more ubiquitous these nuisances will disappear


More and more grocers are using QR codes to make grocery shopping more like a catalog. Often located on subway platforms, users can shop along a wall of product images and simply scan QR codes for those that they want. EMart, a Korean grocery chain, took this a step further with a QR sculpture of sorts. The large whiteboard revealed a scannable QR code during a short midday window by creating shadows from the sun. The gimmick resulted in a 25% boost in sales during the time frame.

QR advertising

How Have You Used Retail QR Code Marketing in Your Store?

As you can gather from this, there are A LOT of ways retailers can implement QR codes into their store. Take advantage of the low-risk opportunity and see what you can create. And if you have already, drop a line and let us know what you tried out. To find out more about how your point of sale system can make QR integration easier, click the button. Sign up for your free trial and talk to one of our product experts!

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