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5 ways brands can use QR codes on packaging to add value for customers

A good place to start is to ask: What questions do people typically have about my product or category?
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· 6 min read

By now, we’re all familiar with QR codes—those funky, futuristic-looking blobs of pixels that appear all over consumer packaging, inside apps, on public signs, basically anywhere with a square of open space. Point your camera at it, and, like magic, a website appears.

These touch-free solutions became essential during the pandemic: In September 2020, a survey showed 83% of consumers had scanned a QR code. Compare that to 2012, when a separate study found 97% of American consumers didn’t even know what a QR code was.

I’m betting that they’re here to stay. And, as someone in the retail industry, it gets me excited.

Why? It means we can place QR codes on our packaging with the confidence that people will actually know how to engage with them.

  • At my company, Health Via Modern Nutrition (H.V.M.N.), we started using them in 2021 to help people understand different dosing protocols for our supplements based on body weight and personal goals, for example.

In fact, I think it’ll be increasingly weird for retail packaging to not have QR codes in the near future. It’ll feel limited and flat, and brands going without will probably be at a competitive disadvantage. (Plus, QR codes are free: Just Google “generate QR code” and you’ll see dozens of options.)

As Mike Lee, H.V.M.N.’s head of design, likes to say: QR codes provide people a way to “double click” into the packaging. Here are five ways companies can do just that, all while providing value to customers.

  • Note: I recommend pointing your QR code to a domain you own, that way it’s easy to change the content or redirect without having to print new packaging.

Show me the stuff

The side surface area of an eight oz. canned bev is about 35 square inches. That’s less than half of the amount of surface area on a standard piece of printer paper. Doesn’t seem like a lot of room to tell the full story behind your product, does it?

A good place to start with QR codes is to ask: What questions do people typically have about my product or category? Information on ingredients, how they’re sourced, and how your product is made is always helpful for shoppers.

  • Recess, a buzzy seltzer brand, uses QR codes to point to a “What’s Inside” page that does a great job of going a level deeper with its customer. It explains how each of the ingredients was chosen and how it can make you feel.

Another way to think about QR codes is to use them to teach customers how to actually use your product. Remember, getting someone to buy what you’re selling is only step one—you want them to make the most of it (preferably often) and have a great time. So, if you sell a gluten-free cupcake mix or ingredients like chia seeds, try linking your QR code to a wild new recipe.

Tell us more

QR codes are also a way to get your customer to interact with your brand. Consider that if someone is scanning your QR code, they’re already holding your product, either at the supermarket or maybe they’ve already bought it. It’s a point of high engagement—how can you add more to that moment?

It’s a no-brainer to invite a consumer to text, call, or email the team with any questions. But you can push further and connect consumers to your Instagram or Twitter accounts, introduce them to your founders, or even link to a podcast featuring a team member to start a conversation.

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  • Sunscreen brand Vacation uses QR codes to send shoppers to a curated, ultra-chill Spotify playlist for those lazy beach days.

All fun and games

You can take engagement a step further and gamify the experience. Use QR codes to let consumers unlock rewards, refer friends, or even become a brand partner.

If your brand offers different flavors or scents of a single product, maybe each one has its own QR code. That opens up a lot of room for fun: What if someone buys and scans all six deodorants that your company offers?

To take it a step further, what if buying your product in real life also provides an in-game item or upgrade for a consumer’s video game avatar?

  • Side note: As the Web3 and NFT space develops, we’re going to see many more ways to earn digital tokens and exchange them for virtual and real-world value. Keep your 👀 out.

Here’s the deal

The typical process of getting discounts in the hands of customers at actual stores can be a long to-do. There’s often a long chain of communication from the brand to the sales broker to the distributor to the retailer to the customer, and it’s often planned out months in advance.

QR codes, on the other hand, can point to a website with promos that update at a moment’s notice.

  • For instance, a customer can get a buy-one-get-one-free deal on a seasonal product.

Plus, unlike other forms of promotions, QR codes give brands immediate feedback. Are people tapping on your QR code more in Chicago or Minneapolis? Is it more compelling to upsell product A or product B? Do people prefer to re-order on your website or on Instacart? Since QR codes bridge into the digital world, all this data can be tracked and analyzed.

Once you have a consumer hooked on the discount, you can then lead into your ultimate goal: Repurchase.

Come back

It’s been said before, but that doesn’t make it any less true: We live in an omnichannel world. Someone may buy your product in a brick-and-mortar store and then want to reorder from the comfort of their couch. Or maybe they snapped it up online but want to buy more right now—no time to waste waiting for deliveries in the mail.

QR codes can give shoppers some of that flexibility. Beverage brand Sound, for one, puts a link at the top of its QR code landing page that says “Stock up,” which takes consumers directly to its online checkout page.

The bottom line: While there are dozens of examples across grocery stores of brands placing QR codes on packaging, it’s largely blue skies for retailers. Want to link to a playlist of tunes to groove out to while someone enjoys your product? Why not?

  • We’re already seeing companies think past packaging, with more QR codes on shippers, billboards, and all forms of out-of-home advertising.

And beyond what QR codes can unlock for existing brands, I’m excited to see entirely new products and categories emerge that are natively built on QR codes. If you already know your customer can participate with you at any moment, how does that change the way you think of what your product, brand, and community can be?

Michael Brandt is the cofounder and CEO of Health Via Modern Nutrition (H.V.M.N.). Follow him on Twitter here.

Stay up to date on the retail industry

All the news and insights retail pros need to know, all in one newsletter. Join over 180,000 retail professionals by subscribing today.