Back from the Dead: How to Use QR Codes in Your eCommerce Marketing

QR code with woman leaning against it | qr code marketing

Few marketing technologies have gone through a product history as complicated as the QR code. If you stopped using QR codes after they were declared dead a decade ago, no marketing expert would have blamed you. And yet, this year’s floating QR code commercial generated more buzz than any other Super Bowl ad.

Was the novelty of the commercial its reason for success, or are QR codes actually back from the dead and experiencing a resurgence?

It’s a complex question, but one that can be essential to answer for marketers looking to continue engaging an increasingly mobile audience. Keep reading for more insights into the technology, including both benefits and drawbacks, and how eCommerce stores can use them to increase visits and drive sales.

A Brief History of QR Codes

QR codes have come a long way since their original invention by Japanese engineer Masahiro Hara in 1994. Their first purpose was to create smaller barcodes that could hold more information for cash registers, but those same features made them ideal for their first mobile application in 2002.

When smartphones hit the market through the first iPhone in 2007, many experts thought that QR codes would explode accordingly. After all, a camera integrated with internet devices would allow a quick transition from a physical environment to a digital experience, leading to countless “quick response” links in printed publications, out-of-home media, and more.

The core problem: user-friendliness never quite caught up with the software’s possibilities. Smartphone users wanting to take advantage of the system would need to download a dedicated app, a step that most audiences simply weren’t willing to take. According to a 2013 survey, only 21% of smartphone users ever used a QR code, and only 2% used them on a daily basis.

As a result, QR codes went almost entirely out of common marketing use in the middle of the last decade. But then, they began to see a resurgence. New uses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the newfound ability of smartphone cameras to scan and link these codes directly drastically increased usage. By June 2021, 45% of shoppers had used a QR code related to marketing and promotional efforts, a number that rose to 54% for the 18-29 demographic.

Put simply: QR codes are back, with the potential to be more effective and easily adopted by your audience than ever. You do, of course, have to understand their nuances.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of QR Codes in Today’s Digital Environment

QR codes work largely because they connect in-person or print and digital communications, a core goal for any marketer. They are immensely versatile, able to link to any digital experience or website from anything big enough to include an inch-wide square in print.

As a result, marketers can successfully avoid URLs in their printed efforts. Research has shown increased willingness to scan QR codes instead of typing in URLs, reducing friction for users wanting to learn more or unlock a promotion.

On the other hand, it’s still not quite safe to assume that all members of your target audience will embrace QR codes. Especially when selling to older demographics, adoption may be lagging, leading to less-than-favorable response rates. QR codes also have to be built with the medium in mind; a code on a highway billboard is unlikely to succeed, considering the time it takes to scan it. Poor execution or user experience can alienate your audience and make them less likely to take action.

person scanning qr code at cafe

How eCommerce Stores Can Use QR Code Marketing to Drive Visits, Sales, and Loyalty

Even with these drawbacks in mind, of course, these codes can still have immense potential for your eCommerce store. You just have to apply them the right way. These potential tactics can help:

  • Include a QR code to your online store on a promotional product, potentially with a discount code dynamically applied to drive conversions.
  • Send users from your physical or printed marketing materials directly to your checkout page, creating a “one-click purchase” model that simplifies the conversion experience.
  • Use QR codes in your brick-and-mortar location that include special product coupons to be applied during checkout.
  • Include a QR code on your product packaging that leads new customers directly to the space where they can leave feedback or reviews and engaging them after the sale.
  • Include a QR code on the product packaging that leads directly to tutorials or your knowledge base for the product, easing the onboarding experience for new customers.

Of course, these are just some of the many ways in which you can leverage QR codes to drive traffic, increase sales, and create customer loyalty.  Anytime you want to make a connection from physical items to your online store or another part of your digital experience, a QR code can simplify the transition and ease the customer experience in the process.

How to Implement QR Codes on Your Shopify Store

For eCommerce stores running on Shopify, QR codes are especially easy to integrate into the overall user experience. The system’s Shopcodes app allows you to dynamically create QR codes for your store that act as buy buttons or direct current and potential customers to any desired spot on your online store.

After adding the Shopcodes app to your Shopify store, you can create QR codes on a product page to direct customers to the description or to send them directly to your checkout page with the selected product already placed in the cart. You can even ask for automated discounts to the checkout process that get applied anytime someone scans the code.

Once Shopcodes are created, you can also track both scans and conversions from those scans in your analytics. They appear automatically in Shopify’s Sales Attributed to Marketing and Sessions Attributed to Marketing reports, allowing you to track and optimize your QR code integration into the eCommerce experience over time.

And of course, you don’t have to be on your own. Finding a partner to optimize your eCommerce marketing can be a crucial step to integrating QR codes into that marketing strategy over time. That’s where we come in. Let’s talk about QR codes and anything else we might be able to help with as you look to drive visits and sales to your online store.