QR Codes, Passing Fad or New Tool for Engagement

I'm one of those early adopters, and sometimes that's not a good thing. What it means is that I often spend time chasing down the knowledge, the tools, the applications that make things work. Whereas, if I sat back and waited till all the kinks were ironed out, I might be rewarded with a smooth-functioning, easy-to-adopt tool. Then again, that involves waiting, something I'm very, very bad at.

Let's look at this new technology as an example. QR codes, or "quick response" as they are called, have many applications. I think Barry Estabrook is the first to show me his QR code on his business card. This completely flies in the face of his self-proclaimed Luddite status but then, anyone who's met Barry or read his work knows he is anything but.

QR Codes for Comparison Shoppers

Originally, these codes, similar to bar codes you see on groceries, shampoos, pretty much everything you buy that is packaged, were used to help shoppers compare prices. So let's say you're standing at CVS looking for your hair gel. You scan this code (using a free application like inigma or ATTScanner) and the QR code will give you an immediate priceHollywoodstudios.org comparison for that product. You might get three local stores that sell it and you can find the best price at the most convenient location.

Now, these codes have expanded and the new ways to use them are quite exciting. For example, José Duarte of Taranta Restaurant in Boston uses QR codes in conjunction with a program called Trace and Trust which enables diners to go directly via their Smart phone to a website that introduces the fisherman that caught the fish they are about to enjoy. In the realm of sustainable seafood, this is something of a holy grail. How do we ensure the food we are eating is what it purports to be and how do we build relationships with local food producers? Trust and transparency in the pursuit of sustainable food systems is very tough to come by.

Other uses for QR Codes - Food, Wine, Engaging Customers

I think it's particularly exciting to see the ways that farmers and fishermen might use this simple technology to engage customers and to reinforce their brand. Attending a recent wine tasting, I stopped at a table just as the representative from the winery was explaining that this little code on the bottle would take you to the winery website where you could learn about the wine, the winemaker, the harvest, etc. I used my iphone to scan it, and shared with the stunned rep and others at his table the beauty of the site and this tool. Turns out he had not even seen it used before and there we were showing off his website and info on his wine.

For anyone selling food, wine, or anything, really, these codes hold so much promise. Build loyal customers, engage them at your website by offering more interesting and well-chosen content than you could put on a shelf-talker or a label. Tell the story of your product, offer recipes or discounts. If you're growing vegetables and fruits - show your customers the fields in your farm. Explain your methods - Organic? Nearly so? Using IPM (integrated pest management) -- these can be quickly explained to offer value to your customers. Everyone wants more transparency in their food systems.


  • I want to see these on the Boston Tree Party sites, taking the opportunity to engage the community in this noteworthy project building a "civic fruit" movement.
  • I also think this could help engage students in the improvement of school lunches. See Calorie Cams - Will They Save School Lunch?
  • I would love to see more seafood in the Trace and Trust site, and I'd love to see info on the sustainability efforts the fisherman are making. What gear are they using? What do others say about the health of their fishery?
  • At farmers markets there could be signs at each booth with QR codes to take you right to farm website, to recipes, to a "meet the farmer" page.



Back to Business Cards - Why add a QR Code?

Anyone who's been to a trade show or conference knows you can easily come back with a bundle of business cards that people then must keep, organize, and enter in order to keep the newly begun relationship rolling. With a QR code on your business card, you allow any Smart phone user to instant upload your contact info into their contact log. Some of the tech press are rolling their eyes at this while others are actively promoting it as the next best thing. If it helps people find my site, and find my contact info more easily than shuffling through all those cards on their desk, I am all for it.

My next business cards will have something like this on them:

You can scan that and see what I mean! Now as to my earlier statement about being an early adopter, I'm still struggling to find a QR code that will load and display properly in my email signature. I suspect email clients are stripping the code out because they don't recognize them yet. Stay tuned.