Thought Leadership

Engaging shoppers off-pack or labels: why QR codes are still the best option

Published on
February 17, 2020
Faisal Chaudhuri

As new technology emerges for connecting physical products to digital experiences, QR codes still have the best flexibility, accessibility and market adoption in 2020.

Many of our customers want to use their products as an activation point for delivering Provenance-powered content about origin, journey and impact. When we advise them to use QR codes they can be skeptical. “Don’t people need an app?” “Does anyone actually scan them?” “What about NFC tags?"As we’ll show below, QR codes are still the most effective solution. And with Covid-19, market adoption is no longer an issue.

Ways to connect the physical to digital

There are many ways to connect your physical product to a digital experience:

  • QR codes
  • NFC chips
  • Beacon technology
  • Through specific apps e.g. Shazaam, Facebook, Augmented Reality

The reality is that for a marketer looking to deliver specific information to as many people as possible, compatibility and simplicity are still key. This means that:

  • App-based options are risky as people are less likely to have a specific app or download it. This reduces the potential pool of people who might engage with your content.

For sustainability and transparency information, people will want to engage with this flexibly in their own time. This means:

  • Proximity-based options like beacon technology are less effective as they depend on location cues.

This narrows down options to QR codes and NFC. We still recommend QR codes and will explain why.

Scan QR codes with your smartphone camera

Almost everyone can scan a QR code without downloading an app. All iPhones with iOS 11 or later can scan it with their smartphone camera. All phones with Android 9 or later can scan it using Google Lens. In other words, most people who have updated their Operating System(OS) in the last 3 years can scan a QR code with just their camera.

How does this compare to NFC? Only the newest iPhones XS and XR can read an NFC chip without an app. On Android the majority can but this does vary by manufacturer. When compatible, NFC offers a frictionless experience where a person can just tap the product. However with the majority of iPhone users unable to do this without an app, this will continue to limit engagement numbers.

Adapt to your packaging, costs and changing content

We know products come in many different types of packaging. Some product types don’t have packaging and use external labels instead. Sometimes a product is promoted in a retail context using other mediums.

Woman scanning QR code in supermarket
QR codes can be used in a variety of ways in-store

A QR code can be printed on all materials and surfaces. It just needs to have enough space to meet an ideal minimum size at 20mm x 20mm. They are generated once - as a single digital file - and can then be printed limitlessly. This gives your brand the flexibility to ensure you have the same activation mechanism across your whole ecosystem.And it is cheap. Limited to just existing printing costs with no extra materials required.What if your content gets out of date? QR codes can be programmed to be dynamic. This means you can redirect customers away from the original link to a new one. That way the QR code on your product packaging or labels always links to relevant content.

How does this compare to NFC? The main difference is cost. QR codes do not add any further printing costs if going on existing packaging or labels. NFC chips can be 10-15p per chip plus additional costs to embed them in the product. This can add up quickly.

Gain insights across different sites & products

If you have the same QR code on multiple products or in different sites you can track them separately using a dynamic QR with unique URLs. At Provenance we use Google UTM tags so you can see how individual QR labels are performing. By knowing footfall numbers you can also gain insights around engagement rates at particular sites.

Growing adoption in 2020

Covid-19 has hugely accelerated the adoption of QR codes. With many businesses now using QR codes as part of track and trace systems, as well as to reduce physical interactions e.g. digital restaurant menus. This has created a high level of engagement and familiarity.Even prior to Covid, Wechat meant QR codes were already everywhere and embedded into shopper behaviour in China. If your primary market is outside of China, then things were changing too:

These numbers will now be far greater because of Covid-19. Adoption is no longer a reason to avoid using QR codes.

NHS track and trace poster
A track and trace poster outside a shop in the UK

QR codes: connect the physical to digital

At Provenance we want to help you deliver origin, journey and impact information to where your customers already are. A QR code on packaging or a label remains the best way to do this and build customer engagement through your product.

See how Napolina are using a QR code to show the responsible sourcing behind their tomatoes.

See how Marleybones are using a QR code to show all the ingredients that go into their dog food

Faisal Chaudhuri

Content Strategist & Developer at Provenance

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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