They’re everywhere. 2D barcodes like Microsoft Tag are swarming the virtual and real-world landscapes, buzzing with information waiting to be revealed and opportunities for engagement. But in an era where information overload is on the verge of becoming a certifiable psychological condition, why are companies further complicating product labels, print marketing material and in-store signage with these bite sized bodies of knowledge? And what (if anything) are they and their customers getting out of it?
The Proliferation of 2D Barcodes
From the classic TV static-looking QR codes to the colorful and customizable Microsoft Tags, one thing is certain—the production of 2D barcodes is on the rise. ScanLife recently reported that the number of new codes generated has increased 300% since 2010 and products ranging from Heinz Ketchup to Mercedes-Benz’ now boast the badge of scanability.
Do People Really Scan These Things?
The numbers strongly suggest that people are engaging with mobile codes when they see them in stores. New data from comScore found that over 14 million people scanned 2D barcodes in the month of June alone, and that 39% of these users did so from retail locations. Another study published by the White Horse Digital Futures Group (WHDFG) shows that 84% of in-store shoppers are simultaneously engaging in some type of mobile activity, and that between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of these shoppers who used their mobile devices to browse and research products increased 78%.
Within the next five years, WHDFG also predicts that mobile devices will become integral to and eventually the focal point of in-store shopping. Indeed some stores already count on their customers to use mobile devices; to save space in crowded aisles they are using 2D barcodes to link to information that was previously displayed on aisle signage.
Keeping Customers in Store
Look out fairy godmother—the smartphone replaced the magic wand a decade ago and now anyone with the right mobile app can animate even the most mundane objects. Tags hint at untapped potential and, with a wave of the hand, users can unlock products’ mysteries. As people succumb to the temptation to extend their interaction with product information, they extend the amount of time they spend in stores.
Like Attracts Like
A shopper who spends 10 seconds scanning an in-store Tag might spend an additional 90 seconds exploring where the Tag has led them via their mobile device. Multiplied by the estimated more than five million people who did this in June 2011 alone, that’s a significant increase in the amount of time shoppers spent taking up real estate on the retail floor.
In retail, busy-ness is self-perpetuating. Because busy stores attract more business, code-scanning customers are like fruit trees—they increase the property value simply by being rooted to the spot.
Linking Information to Physical Spaces
Codes that are available only at key, physical locations inspire consumers to explore the retail space. Tags that link users to exclusive content and in-store offers that are not accessible through ordinary web browsing can potentially lure former online-only shoppers to step onto the sales floor.
Tag You’re It
How else can Tags change the way we shop? In what could be described as the brilliant gamification of browsing, marketers are obliterating barriers between online and in-store shopping via Tag scavenger hunts. The basic idea: a race in which users seek out and scan specific Tags at various locations for the opportunity to win deals and prizes.
On a small scale, this could mean a handful of codes within one retail location. One grand scale example, however, took place over the course of two months. Users participating in the O Bee Credit Union’s “Capture the Tag” event hunted for 30 Microsoft Tags, 20 of which were hidden in and around locally-owned retail stores throughout Thurston County, Wash. Rewards ranged from iPads to $10,000 cash. Props to O Bee for their buy-local bent and their success at using Microsoft Tags to marry commerce with competition in a way that had users actively exploring their business and neighboring businesses too.
In what ways are 2D barcodes like Tag changing the way people engage with their environment? Let us know with your comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.