Firms Turn to QR Codes for Interactivity

NEW YORK — As QR codes make their way into the footwear industry, both brands and retailers are struggling to determine how best to leverage this emerging technology and engage consumers.

QR, or “quick response,” codes are barcodes that can be scanned with a special reader or a smartphone, and then deliver videos, coupons and other content directly on consumers’ phones.

According to a report by Scanlife, mobile code scanning by consumers is up 800 percent from last year, with retail generating some of the most activity.

“There’s no doubt that QR code technology is evolving,” said Allen Edmonds chief marketing officer Colin Hall. “We’re trying to figure out how to best use them.”

Hall said this past spring, the company began using the technology on hangtags attached to its golf shoe collection. When the QR code is scanned by a smartphone, consumers are shown a video featuring pro golfer and brand ambassador Ben Crenshaw.

With the brand being new to the golf market, Hall said the codes offered a way to educate potential customers. “QR codes allow us to give information to consumers in an environment where there may not be a shoe expert present,” he said.

Hall said his team is still trying to gauge if the codes are relevant to its main consumer. “Our core target is a businessman, and he typically has pretty good technology. Whether he knows how to use it is another question,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, Allen Edmonds plans to implement more of the barcodes into its POS materials and print ads going forward.

The John Fluevog brand also is testing the waters with QR codes to create buzz among existing consumers. Placed on the footbeds of the Ask clogs from Fluevog’s spring ’11 line, the codes direct customers to a video showing the production of the shoe.

“This was exciting for us because it seemed like it was something we hoped would hit an emotional level with our [consumers],” said Stephen Bailey, director of marketing and communications for the brand. “It’s something that’s personal to people because it gives them a deeper knowledge of the product that’s on their foot.”

Although Bailey said the brand has received favorable consumer response from the codes, it hasn’t calculated the sales conversion. “It’s great that we can see traction and how many times the code is being used, but we don’t tie in the number of scans to the sales of the shoe,” he said. “For us, it was more about creating an experience for the consumer and having them talk about it.”

Because the technology is new to the U.S., companies are finding that consumer knowledge is key to creating a successful QR campaign.

Macy’s spokesperson Orlando Veras said that educating consumers was a major piece of its spring ’11 marketing program, in which QR codes were the main focal point.

“We understood that there would be some challenges training consumers,” Veras said. “QR codes are an emerging technology here in the U.S., but they’ve been used for a number of years in Europe and Asia.”

The retailer developed a special instruction video illustrating how to scan the codes, provided a free QR code reader for download and trained sales associates to assist consumers with the process. To make the code distinct to shoppers, Macy’s designed it in the shape of its star logo, and once scanned, the code delivered 30-second videos from the department store’s exclusive design partners, including Rachel Roy and Michael Kors.

For many companies, QR codes can serve as a bridge to integrate their print and Web efforts. Sears, which introduced the technology to consumers for the first time last Thanksgiving, puts barcodes in all its print catalogs, weekly circulars and mobile apps.

“QR codes enable us to connect the offline with online by being able to offer richer experiences that we can’t do in print because of space,” said Iman Jooma, president of e-commerce for parent company Sears Holdings Corp.

Dave Wieneke, founder and CEO of digital consulting firm Useful Arts, said that while QR campaigns are a good way to complement print offerings, marketers should consider what they want to accomplish before using the codes, especially because they are still a transitional technology that requires a lot of effort from consumers.

And, Wieneke stressed that QR codes can’t replace solid marketing strategies.

“QR is a useful mechanism right now as long as end users have time and are motivated to use their smartphones to do this,” he said. “But it can’t substitute for good creative work and can’t substitute for motivating marketing messages.”

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