September 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Stores link to the online world

(Page 3 of 3)

Paper coupon to mobile web

Another example of a non-store retail application of QR codes comes from coupon kingpin Valpak, source of the familiar blue envelope mailed to 40 million households every month. Valpak has perhaps the biggest implementation of QR codes to date. In July it began placing on the outside of its envelopes a QR code purchased by an advertiser.

The first round of 40 million was purchased by cable network TNT, promoting one of its new original shows. A scan of the QR code led to a promotional video, followed by a mobile web page on which consumers could enter to win a trip to New York.

Such sweepstakes are becoming a popular QR code tool, as they drive brand engagement, reap consumer data such as e-mail addresses, and can ultimately lead to an m-commerce site where consumers can make purchases.

Valpak says by October it will have 160 million QR codes in consumers’ hands. While it declines to reveal the total number of scans for its July debut, it says such totals do not provide a full measure of what 2-D bar codes offer.

“Sometimes with cutting-edge technology, numbers are not really the whole story,” says Michael Vivio, president of Cox Target Media, which operates Valpak Direct Marketing. “What you have is someone who is actively sitting down to watch a promotion and enter a contest, so you have a very engaged customer there. You don’t necessarily measure this in bulk numbers. We can achieve bulk numbers, but we can achieve very high engagement with the best consumers who are digitally aware and a great demographic.”

While the implementations may be different, pioneers in 2-D bar codes all agree that there is nothing quite like the codes for connecting stores and printed materials to the mobile web, and that 2-D codes greatly enhance in-store and catalog shopping.

The Nielsen Co. says by year’s end half of all mobile phones in use will be smartphones. And one need only look around to see that 2-D bar code use is on the rise.

Smart retailers are not just planning but acting today to meet the demands of the smartphone shopper who wants plenty of information to make a purchase decision anywhere, anytime. These 2-D bar codes may prove especially critical for bricks-and-mortar stores that can use the codes to deliver sale-cinching content and keep shoppers from looking around further, whether at competitors’ stores or online.

How to generate a QR code

Generating a QR code might just be the easiest thing to do in e-commerce or m-commerce. Step 1: Google “QR code generators.” Step 2: Pick one. Step 3: Enter a URL into the appropriate window on the site. Step 4: Hit generate. Step 5: Download the image of the QR code to your computer.

No kidding, it’s that simple. Plus, many QR code generators are run by companies that provide free basic analytics. These companies often also offer paid services to help merchants and brands run campaigns and receive deeper analytics. And there are mobile marketing firms that don’t offer code generators but do offer 2-D bar code marketing services.

Printing 2-D bar codes is a science, not an art. Reader apps scan a code by reading the contrast between light and dark within the square. 2-D experts say it is ideal to print codes between two inches and three inches square. Some codes can be read at 3/8 inch, but decreasing or increasing the size too much can lead to increased scanning error rates. However, 2-D bar codes will work at just about any size—even projected on the side of a building, as Atlantic Records and eBay Inc. did in a promotion earlier this year.

2-D code companies typically offer plenty of guidance. Here are two examples.

First, provides the free Tag generator and the ability to set up an account to receive free basic analytics. It also explains how Microsoft can work with a company to run campaigns. Lowe’s Inc. works with Microsoft to run campaigns and says 2-D bar codes are a straightforward implementation. offers a free QR code generator with code management and tracking, along with deeper analytics through sister site for a flat fee of $1,000 a month. It also will help companies run QR code programs. General Nutrition Centers Inc. uses the free services.

“I’m a do-it-yourself guy,” says Dave Sims, vice president of customer relationship management at GNC. “Right now I’m setting up about 20 codes that are going live tomorrow. I’ve talked to the CEO and really like the analytics I get plus the ability to change on the fly—one of our uses is to put one QR code in windows and update it daily with a new URL to always have a new deal running. The capabilities I get on Delivr are all I need for now.”

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