QR codes have a long way to go before they're a truly mainstream phenomenon, but brands have been quick to adopt them in an effort to connect online with offline.

That has led to more than a few dubious uses of the codes, but there are signs that companies are getting more savvy about how they apply them.

Case in point: just in time for the holiday shopping season, American retailer Target is launching a new campaign that will enable in-store shoppers to buy 20 featured toys using QR codes.

In a press release, Target announced:

Beginning Oct. 14, Target will showcase the top 20 toys on the main aisle in-store to make finding gifts easier for time-strapped holiday shoppers. For added convenience, each of the top toys will have a QR code that can be scanned to purchase the toy directly using a mobile device and ship it for free to anyone, anywhere in the U.S.

Making the holiday shopping experience more convenient is Target's ultimate goal. "Our in-store QR codes for this year’s top toys will add real convenience for busy moms. Now, rather than hoping the kids won’t notice when a gift is slipped into the cart, guests can scan the QR codes to buy top toys and have them shipped anywhere for free," Target's VP of toys, Stephanie Lucy, explained.

The right approach?

While many of the most highly-publicized QR code initiatives have been marketing-oriented, a growing number are focused on driving commerce. Some, like QR code-based pop-up stores, are incredibly interesting, but seem well ahead of the curve for most markets. After all, bringing the supermarket to the subway station is a cool feat but may not be something the average consumer is ready for.

Target's initiative, however, arguably hits the sweet spot. For shoppers in a rush or searching for a gift, being able to check out a product in person and complete the purchase of it electronically could represent a better customer experience. No more waiting in line. No need to wrap and deliver a gift personally. Just confirm that the product is everything you had hoped it would be and scan a QR code.

Education still a priority

It's not hard to envision a QR code-enabled hybrid offline-online purchasing model becoming more popular in the not-too-distant future. Beyond the convenience factor, such a model could help retailers address some of the challenges mobile has created. In short, initiatives like Target's can play a role in an omni-channel retail strategy.

But retailers may need to wait until a larger number of consumers understand what QR codes are and how to use them to see meaningful gains. From this perspective, it may be helpful for companies pushing ahead with QR code commerce initiatives to temper sales expectations with the understanding that these initiatives are, for the time being, also investments in consumer education.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 October, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

John Waghorn

John Waghorn, Content Marketer at Koozai Ltd

It’s good that brands have adopted early as it puts them in control and in a way they are starting to force customers to try them, or at least become aware of what they do. A lot of people are still unaware of what these codes actually and what their purpose is. Once people become familiar with how to use them they will probably become more popular, although on the other hand they could be viewed as a fad. How long the QR code will remain for is yet to be seen.

almost 6 years ago


Unternehmensberatung Stephan Jäckel

QR codes have a huge untapped potential from augmented reality and location information to commercial processes.

Their rapid spreading due to online ticketing with airlines and train services has made them a familiar cause with many people. Just the many dimensions how they can be used may re-add some confusion beyond young people and early-adopters.

However businesses who find ways to integrate QR codes as points within customer interaction processes - where their usage does start a process which does offer additional values to customers - will soon see success in using them. I do strongly believe that the "buy yourself - let the carrying be done by someone else" idea will spread far beyond tthe Top 20 toys at TARGET in the 2013 Christmas-season.

How to counter such a service? Buy all your child-toys for Christmas at XYZ and the delivery will be at Christmas eve by Santa Clause himself..... at least here in Germany, where the "Weihnachtsmann" as he is called here knocks on your door the eve of the 24th this would be a much liked service.

Currently parents have to hand in their presents with student-services since ten-thousands of German university students flock into the streets every 24th of December to deliver presents dressed as Santa-Clauses). Putting this together with a toy-retailer would make things easier for parents - maybe physcially harder for the Santa to carry - allowing for some helper to find a job that eve, too.

almost 6 years ago

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