QR codes have their place but aren't effective in advertising

One of the first apps I downloaded when I bought my smartphone was a QR code reader. I couldn't wait to unlock the mysteries behind all those crossword puzzle-like squares.

Turns out, I wasn't missing much. I've used the app less than 10 times.

QR (quick response) codes became all the rage a few years ago as a cool way to revolutionize advertising. The technology wasn't new, but it opened up fresh ways to reach mobile-savvy customers.

Then retailers got lazy. They posted QR codes around stores linking people to their websites. Or, just as exciting, a download to their phone apps. A few even put codes in dressing rooms in the hopes that people would take a few minutes to scan the code before putting their clothes back on.

Cindy Radney, digital marketing manager for Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate services, considers QR codes one of the top failed uses of mobile technology among retailers. Why would people scan a code to get a website when they could just as easily go through a mobile browser?

"It got to the point where people didn't want to scan a QR code anymore because it wasn't taking them anywhere worthwhile,'' she said. "It wasn't giving them anything unique.''

Radney said she doesn't think QR codes will disappear altogether, but they won't be used as heavily in advertising. Instead, look for codes linking to product descriptions and ordering tools as stores move toward displaying fewer of each item on showroom floors and keeping more inventory in the back.

She mentioned one retailer in particular that's attracting a lot of attention. Seattle-based Hointer jeans displays one of each style and size with a QR code. Just scan the code and the pant shows up in a designated dressing room. Don't like it, and you send it back through a chute.

The concept aims to reduce labor costs while making better use of store space and improving the overall shopping experience. Customers don't have to rifle through 20 pairs to find the right size. Employees don't have to tidy up after every shopper.

Hointer has three stores so far and plans to expand. Who knows if they would head our way, but the idea seems like an intriguing use of QR codes.

In the market for a computer, tablet, e-reader? Then head to the stores this Friday through Sunday for the back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Retail officials expect record sales this year because for the first time, electronics up to $750 are on the list of tax-free goodies. That covers items bought in stores as well as those purchased online.

In preparation for big crowds, local Best Buy stores are opening two hours earlier — 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.

The tax break applies to most computers and related accessories such as keyboards, mice, monitors, modems and routers. It does not include cellphones, video game consoles or digital media receivers.

Like last year, clothing and shoes up to $75 will be tax exempt, along with basic school supplies up to $15. Seven percent off a $1.99 pack of pencils won't pay for a trip to Hawaii, but 7 percent off a $750 computer will buy you a few Mai Tais.

I had a positive experience checking out at Walmart the other day. No wait. No fuming about the fact that they have 376 registers but only two open.

That's because I used one of the new self-checkout lanes. Walmart is in the process of adding self-serve registers at most of its Tampa Bay stores by the end of the year. It's part of a nationwide effort to add 10,000 self-checkouts at more than 1,200 Walmart stores, from Supercenters to Neighborhood Markets.

Walmart says the registers speed up checkout and are key to improving customer service. They let shoppers bag items like they want to and offer privacy when buying personal products — which seems silly until I rewind to age 18.

I don't think I'll use self-checkout for a cartload of groceries but, for a few items, it's fast and convenient.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

QR codes have their place but aren't effective in advertising 07/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 29, 2013 10:17pm]

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