You don’t notice them at first but QR codes are making their way into your life, creeping up all around… These weird looking black-and-white pixelated boxes are everywhere in Korea and now becoming more common in Western parts of the world as well. What are these mysterious QR codes for anyways? Here is a quick guide into this parallel universe and how mobile commerce is reaching new frontiers in Korea…
Standing for Quick Response code, QR codes were created in 1994 to ease inventory tracking. They are a more elaborate version of the traditional bar-codes. With a scanner and the appropriate software you can unlock a wealth of information, from contacts to event details all coded in these little boxes. Anyone with a smartphone can access the information with one of the many applications available. Hence, the use of QR codes in advertising is highly linked to smartphone penetration in each market. It is no surprise then that in Japan and Korea QR codes are on everything. While in the West, consumers still need to be taught how to use them.
In print ads, a lot of advertisers have inserted QR codes to redirect users to online promotions or contests that usually involve social networks such as Facebook, aiming for viral campaigns. QR codes are also a useful tool for Augmented Reality (AR) to make pages of magazines come alive on your screen. The real interest in QR codes is that they can link together real objects and online-content. The technology is so incredible and playful because it blurs the frontier between virtual and concrete, online and real-world. Some museums and gaming platforms now use QR codes to enrich the user experience and create a new world full of possibilities.
In Seoul I have seen them literally everywhere: in magazines, the subway, bubble-gum packs, delivery menus… Talking with Korean friends, some feel like the technology is over used and as a result they just ignore QR codes unless it is a brand that they really appreciate. But a new enthusiasm for the technology has been stirring underground and is setting the tone for what is to come in m-commerce (mobile-commerce).
Over-worked and over-stressed Seoulites barely have time to do their groceries, but Tesco came to their rescue. The UK based retailer, presented an original and convenient way to shop under its local brand created with Samsung: Home Plus. During a month, subway users could effectively do their grocery shopping directly from the subway platform and have it delivered once they were back home, by simply scanning QR codes on their smartphones. 10,287 consumers visited the online Home Plus mall using smartphones!
The strategy was extremely successful for Home Plus against its main competitor E-Mart, making the brand the #1 online-retailer in Korea. In a few months, the number of customers increased by 76% and its online sales by 130%. The whole campaign created such a buzz online and in the advertising world that it received the Media Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions Festival, the international rendez-vous for communications professionals, last June.
This is a great example of m-commerce and how well it can be integrated in the busy schedule of consumers. With the increasing popularity of smartphones we can expect m-commerce to be adopted much faster than e-commerce, as shoppers are getting used to intangible retailing and that technology is bridging the gap between virtual and real worlds. Keep your smartphones ready for the next QR code you encounter and zap him in your tracks!