September 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Stores link to the online world

(Page 2 of 3)

Like GNC, Lowe’s Inc. is including 2-D bar codes on signs in stores and in print materials, including its circulars and its Creative Ideas magazine. Instead of using QR codes, Lowe’s uses codes based on Microsoft Corp.’s Tag format. Tags are prominent in the nursery departments at Lowe’s, appearing on the cards that go into individual plants. These Tags lead to information on how to care for the plants.

“If you follow how modern customers shop, there is a fuzzy line between channels,” says Gihad Jawhar, vice president of Lowes.com. “The information customers gather from store associates, packaging, the web and the social channel all blends together in their minds. Retailers need to make that easier for them to do. One of the best ways to do this is through 2-D bar codes, to add value to the customer’s shopping experience and facilitate cross-channel research to help make a purchase decision.”

On various in-store signs Lowe’s features Tags that lead to mobile-optimized product selectors to help shoppers narrow down their product options based on brands and available features. Lowe’s targets its 2-D bar codes effort at providing information that keeps customers shopping, not enabling commerce itself.

“They are there in a store to make shopping easier—2-D bar codes are there to facilitate the customer experience, not to focus on driving sales in one channel or another, but to keep the customer within Lowe’s. That is their primary purpose,” Jawhar says. He declines to give specific figures but says the 2-D bar codes “are constantly being used.”

There is no cost to consumers to scan 2-D bar codes; several free scanning apps are available in all the major app stores. But the challenge retailers face is to educate shoppers about how and why they should use those apps to scan 2-D codes.

“One of the mistakes we see today is a lot of naked codes with no call to action, no instructions. They do very poorly,” says Bill McQuain, director of business development, start-up business group, at Microsoft Corp., which launched its Tags in January 2009. “We encourage our customers to have a strong call to action. What will happen when I scan this, and also instructions on where to get a reader app.”

McQuain suggests retailers think creatively about getting shoppers to download a reader, if they don’t already have one, as soon as they enter a store.

“When you first walk in a store there should be a display that introduces the technology,” he advises. “A contest to get people to engage early on. Contests create a lot of buzz and engagement. Scan the Tag at the entry for a chance to win a $100 shopping card. That builds awareness immediately and then when they see the Tags throughout the store they’ll have the reader and they will be able to engage.”

Further, many retailers using 2-D codes and mobile experts say it’s important to have at least a little bit of instructional text accompany each code.

Consumer brand manufacturer Mister Landscaper, which uses 2-D bar code services provider Augme Technologies, has been placing QR codes on its micro-irrigation product packages, leading consumers in stores to mobile-optimized pages of videos, instruction manuals, tips and ways to contact the company. It doesn’t take any chances when it comes to store shoppers and 2-D codes. Accompanying its codes is a patch of text that informs them on what to do and how to do it (see image below).

“Augme was really insistent we put this on everything,” says Sam Thayer, CEO of Mister Landscaper. “We thought it was ridiculous to begin with, taking up space on the packaging. Now that we’ve done it we know it was the right thing to do because there still are a ton of people who don’t know what a QR code is. Maybe three or four years down the road we won’t have to take up as much of the packaging with that text.”

Mister Landscaper sales are up this season, and Thayer says he attributes some of the growth to QR codes. Augme analytics have shown significant numbers of scans at locations throughout the U.S., Thayer reports, and the scans align with store sales.

82% of customers who scanned a QR code to watch a video also watched videos on additional Mister Landscaper products, Augme reports. 42% of consumers who did at least one scan used the mobile-optimized site’s instruction manual page and 40% viewed the how-to video page, which suggests customers are not only scanning QR codes in stores but also at home when they need help installing or using a product.

E-retailers can benefit

As important as these codes can be in stores, it’s not just store retailers and consumer brand manufacturers that can play the 2-D bar code game. Web-only merchants and direct marketers can use 2-D codes in unique ways to drive more business to web and mobile commerce.

A prime example is online marketplace operator eBay Inc., whose RedLaser 2-D bar code reader app has been downloaded 12 million times. It’s not letting the fact that it has no stores stand in the way of reaping QR code rewards. Instead, eBay has placed QR codes on signs and other materials at various racing and automobile events to promote its eBay Motors mobile app, which has the RedLaser scanner built in. (Any retailer can build a free 2-D bar code scanner into its app.) The codes lead to mobile web content about the events, GPS-based maps for the events, and links to download the eBay Motors app if they’re not already using it.

The merchant wants car enthusiasts to think eBay when they think cars. The eBay Motors app serves as a guide for each auto event, giving consumers extensive information and helping them navigate the shows. This creates a strong tie between eBay and customers, eBay says, that is valuable to the merchant.

“We’ve done NASCAR, various car shows in California, having eBay be a companion with you at these car-related events,” says Steve Yankovich, vice president of platform business solutions and mobile. “When you want to go buy a car or a part, we’re more likely to get that transaction because we’ve been providing you all this other value as well.”

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