Whisper it, but one of the winners of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the humble QR code.
The ‘quick response’ scannable matrix was introduced in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave to streamline its manufacturing process but when applied to the commercial world it was often anything but.
Consumers were until recently required to download a scanner in order to read the code but now no longer have to, meaning that, along with the introduction of Covid-19 tracking technologies employed by businesses including pubs and restaurants, it is having something of a renaissance.
Publicis Commerce’s managing director Jonathan Lewis Jones points to the technology as a big brand driver over the coming year. He believes its (now) simplicity will encourage more businesses to employ QRs in their communications in order to direct people to specific landing and product pages.
Lewis Jones, one of NDA’s Innovation Session judges, is optimistic about the future of retail innovation. He sees a shift in brand behaviour online, accelerated by the outbreak but a trend already in the ascendancy, towards a more natural browsing behaviour seen in the real life as opposed to Amazon’s ‘spearfishing’.
“Amazon is all search-based and some 75% of people who visit the site will buy something,” he says. “But we’re now starting to see a lot of innovation as online shopping becomes more like browsing in the real world.”
A real world ‘experience’ – online
At the forefront are many fashion brands pushing a lifestyle aesthetic and using hyperlinks and rollover hotspots to great effect. Initiatives such as ‘Shop the look’ are becoming more popular where brands cluster together products in order to better cross sell. It’s an echo of another retailer innovation: the use of ‘virtual’ personal shoppers who will help pull together an outfit or capsule wardrobe for customers unable to shop instore.
“There will be a huge amount of innovation in the next year,” he believes, particularly citing the marketing opportunity for retailers who streamline and simplify their online offerings. “Having to physically click through to a product page will increasingly be seen as clunky,” he predicts.
The platforms are poising themselves to benefit from the rise of social shopping, with Facebook alone launching its ‘Shops’ next year, introducing a hosted check-out experience in Instagram and a payment mechanic in WhatsApp.
“Such initiatives will start to scale a level of social commerce that we’re already seeing in China,” he says.
Shifting shopping sands
He also points to continued investment in brands’ direct to consumer efforts. “It’s often not just about revenue but the customer relationship. Owning that first party data and building that audience and use of data to target future customers will be increasingly important.”
He points to work his agency has been doing with clients to help them get up and running in the eCommerce space with “basic” DTC sites rolled out within four weeks.
However, he believes the biggest opportunity lies in the mid-term, by integrating more seamless and sophisticated tools into a retailer’s online (and high street) armoury.
For instance, one retailer has taken out 48-sheet posters that detail virtual aisles of QR-coded products that a customer can scan and add to a basket to collect or have delivered.
“Or imagine going into H&M and having a smart mirror that recognises your face and logs you on. You can be recommended products or, if something you’ve tried on doesn’t fit, you could order for delivery or know who has stock.”
He believes the future of retail innovation rests on technology but issues a final caveat: ensure a digital tool serves a purpose rather than acting as a PR tool alone. “Customers today are looking for a better way of doing things. Think: what are the use and business cases that need to be solved.”