A recent blog article by myKaarma CEO & Founder Ujj Nath, posing a great question, “Are QR codes a technology asset or failure?” motivated me to respond with my own viewpoint on this matter, as it is a divisive topic for sure!
I have been in this space for a while and seen QR codes used by dealers in several different ways – most of which were unfortunately not a great success.
Here’s the deal: In my opinion, QR codes failed in our industry. When they were used, the predominant delivery was generic, gimmicky, irrelevant content, usually of little value to the car shopper when scanning; just coupons, home page links, phone numbers, etc.
That’s not to say that QR codes HAVE TO fail. Back in 2010, a number of leading retailers including Target, Best Buy, Macy's and Home Depot, started using QR codes in their stores. But, they did not use them in a generic or gimmicky fashion. These leading retailers used QR codes to deliver information specific to the actual product the QR code was displayed with. If the consumer needed details and specifications about a particular product on the shelf they simply scanned the QR code to get information, at the point of sale. This simple action then aided them in their decision making-process. A GREAT idea in theory.
However, there was a problem: Most everyone else was NOT using them in that way - including dealers (if they were using them at all). Again, the vast majority were simply linking QR codes to generic information such as the home page, or gimmicky information, rather than specific information about the product. As a result, people became numb to them.
I believe THIS is what killed QR codes. No reward, plain and simple. And, of course, why take the time to scan a QR code just to pull up a website or a phone number when it can just as easily be typed it into your phone?
A great example is a dealership lot I visited. It had QR codes on every vehicle. How great! – but wait -- I wanted to know the price of the vehicle, so scanned the code, only to discover that the dealer had placed the SAME QR code on EACH vehicle. No pricing info. Nothing useful about that individual vehicle was provided. The QR code simply lead to the dealership website homepage. Talk about annoying for the consumer! Why pay money to use a technology that in effect will probably drive that customer off the lot in frustration? Does anyone think this type of QR code use leads to increased usage by consumers in the auto industry?
It’s the same reason that pay-per-click ads fail when they promise one thing and deliver another. Have you ever searched for a product, received a paid ad and clicked on it only to be delivered to the retailer’s home page, not the product you wanted? Then what happens? You probably have to click the back button to find a link to a product description page.
Fast forward to today, I've certainly seen data about QR codes making a comeback. But, I don't think we're there yet. And, frankly, I'm not convinced we ever will be - at least in the auto industry.
Nonetheless, QR codes can be an easy and inexpensive tool to connect the real world with the virtual world and help bridge the gap between online and on-lot. If used correctly QR codes, as a technology, can certainly help relay valuable information to the consumer on the lot. As Ujj Nath pointed out, cell phone manufacturers are integrating native QR code scanners into their cell phone cameras. This makes the entire process much more user-friendly as it negates the need for consumers to download some app.
Major marketers are also using QR codes again… probably due to that change. But, for QR codes to be valuable to dealers and regain steam, it is important to link that QR code to relevant information on each individual vehicle, not a generic website.
In addition, to truly get the most out of QR codes, and in order for the technology to really succeed, I suggest that dealers combine communication options into these codes. Today’s millennial car buyers prefer text as a mode of communication. So, tie the QR codes into texting as well. The rapid growth in smart phone usage and advancements in mobile technology are together making way for new, innovative ways for auto dealers to connect with more customers, more frequently, and in more places. Harness the power of SMS text messaging, QR codes and mobile websites, fusing them into one highly effective, comprehensive on-lot mobile marketing solution.
QR codes can still work if implemented properly because some people will use them. Add additional options for interaction and it could be a very powerful addition to a dealership’s marketing toolbox.