Will In-Store Bluetooth Beacons Marginalize QR Codes?

qrcodeThough many fans of QR codes will strongly disagree, I would argue that they haven’t found their “sweet spot” in mobile marketing and must do so relatively soon or be marginalized. Similarly, SMS was once a much touted opportunity for marketers but has since failed to gain widespread marketing adoption.

Despite some statistics showing that as many as 38 percent US adults under 35 have at some point scanned QR codes, most smartphone owners don’t engage with them in any regular or meaningful way. And while they’re quite versatile, core QR codes use cases are now threatened by newer technologies such as iBeacon (“Bluetooth Smart”).

Designed to be a simple way to direct a smartphone user to additional product or marketing content across media types or on product packaging, QR codes have evolved a variety of enhanced capabilities and additional use cases. Exemplifying this is Scanbuy, which just released a smörgåsbord of new capabilities as part of its ScanLife Mobile Engagement Platform.

You can now do a surprisingly wide range of things with QR codes. Witness the following marketing copy from Scanbuy:

  • A new and world-class mobile website builder that features over 20 templates and the ability to include photo galleries, embedded YouTube videos and Google Maps, enabling marketers to design a complete site quickly and easily
  • The ability to build dynamic, customized consumer experiences that change based on device operating system, time of day, location, language, consumer loyalty, etc.
  • A new Create Experience section providing increased functionality and accessibility for one-stop creation with 15 different options to present the user when a mobile trigger is activated such as launch a website, make a call, save a calendar event, send an email or text, display a note, contest winner notification, and more
  • Seamless ability to create and publish campaigns to a variety of formats, including Microsoft Tag, QR codes, NFC and dynamic URLs for mobile banner ads or SMS campaigns

There are also sophisticated analytics, which can track a variety of data and activities including engagement lifecycles, audience demographics and location, among other things. One can either see these features as cool and useful enhancements of the QR code or as a desperate last-ditch attempt to remain relevant as other technologies threaten to supersede QR codes for in store and product-related use cases.

As mentioned, one of those potentially “disruptive” technologies is Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth 4.0) beacons. Beacons can be placed on every shelf and potentially every product if desired, though cost would be a factor in the latter case. Beacons broadcast promotional or content-related messages that trigger notifications (via apps) on user smartphones. Depending on the beacon installed, they can potentially also “receive” information for analytics purposes.

While it’s very unlikely that retailers (for cost reasons) will equip every product with beacons they illustrate that other tools are now threatening to push QR codes out of view.

QR codes will likely stick around to offer additional information on products and as a way to enhance traditional media (e.g., outdoor, print) content and advertising. There are other potential scenarios too — a recent patent was granted using QR codes as the basis of peer-to-peer money transfers.

But unless that QR code marketing “sweet spot” is found soon, this once promising marketing tool is heading for the remainder bin.

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Related Topics: Channel: Retail | Marketing Tools: URL Shorteners

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://socialmediadecals.com Tim G.

    We’re always looking
    for a way to bring the digital world into reality and (likewise) reality into
    the digital world–QR Codes make this easy (for many of those reasons you’ve
    outlined in your article). I fully expect “beacons” to be a part of the
    next wave–costs and a standardization of communication will the barriers for success.

  • http://www.aisleside.com/ Mike Templeton

    You bring up an interesting question, Greg. While I think both QR codes and Bluetooth beacons are getting at the same thing (to some degree), I still see very different use cases for each. Administering QR codes on in-store signage is much more cost-effective, plus it’s just the right amount of technology for the job; using a beacon in that instance is probably overkill. Beacons are certainly hot at the moment, but most of the fervor is coming from discussions about what’s possible, not necessarily widespread in-store implementations.

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