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When a well known hotel chain was building a new location in downtown Philadelphia, passersby found a variety of large, colorful QR codes in the window. Anyone whose curiosity was piqued could scan the codes with smartphones, where they found a variety of fun results. For example, one QR code sent the user to a video that highlighted a local artist whose work was being featured inside the hotel. Another provided sneak peeks of the trendy hotel’s interior. And another delivered a playlist of music that fit the hotel’s unique vibe.
This clever campaign delivered what it set out to do: creating hype around the opening of the hotel. It’s just one of many examples showcasing innovative QR code uses.
Created by Japanese company Denso Wave in 1994, QR codes were intended to improve upon bar codes. At the time, they required a special reader. When Apple enabled the iPhone camera to read QR codes without a third-party app in 2017, however, QR codes became more mainstream. And in 2020 they became an integral way for business owners to serve customers while following social distancing guidelines during COVID-19, primarily as a means to share menus or offer contactless ways to pay.
The convenience of contactless QR codes is likely here to stay post-pandemic, as are the creative QR code uses that restaurants and retailers have launched to surprise and delight their customers. Here are a few ideas that might inspire you.
Elevate the at-home experience with QR codes
When bars and restaurants pivoted to takeout and delivery, some used QR codes to help replicate the in-person experience for patrons. Dutch Kills Bar in New York, for example, put a QR code on the packaging of its cocktail deliveries. Scanning the code sends customers to a Spotify playlist of their jukebox’s most popular selections for customers who missed the bar’s ambiance.
To create a unique takeout experience, a taco shop in Toronto offered “Journey Through Mexico” dinner boxes that highlighted food from various regions of the owner’s native country. The kit included a QR code that sent customers to a curated playlist from the region they were “visiting” through its cuisine. And a Chicago dining club found creative uses for QR codes, delivering an in-person restaurant experience at home: Diners who order takeout can scan the QR code on the back of the menu to watch a livestreaming cabaret performance at the restaurant. Another QR code lets the audience view looped footage from the bar and an hour-long DJ set.
If your business could benefit from music, consider creating song lists for customers.
- A gym could curate music for different workout intensities.
- A beauty brand could offer a relaxing playlist paired with their products to help clients recreate the spa experience at home.
QR codes create new customer interactions
QR codes have been used in China much longer than in the United States, and one of the country’s most intriguing uses can be found in a bar in Nanjing. The bar posts a QR code on a large screen behind musicians. Through the QR code, patrons can enter the bar’s chat room and interact with each other, breaking the ice before meeting in person. Active users can also earn avatar decorations and embellishments.
Stateside, a national flower delivery service adds QR codes to floral deliveries. A partnership with a famed fashion designer resulted in the “Wild Beauty” line of bouquets — recipients can scan the code on their deliveries and access a video that shares a behind-the-scenes look at the designer’s photoshoot for the collection, as well as his runway fashion show.
Interacting with customers can be done in a variety of ways.
- A gift store can put QR codes on their product shelves next to handcrafted items. Customers can be sent to videos that share personal information about the artist or company that made the item.
- A business can create hype by using QR codes to send customers to a website that teases new product launches or shares information about upcoming sales or events.
Share product instructions with QR codes
A Korean restaurant in Philadelphia uses QR codes on its carryout packaging. Customers who scan the code are directed to a video of the owner’s daughter, who demonstrates how to assemble the meal using the soft-boiled egg that is included. Not only is the experience helpful to patrons, it also provides an added element of delight since the girl is just five years old.
Similarly, a sushi joint in Los Angeles has a QR code on its takeout bento boxes. Customers can scan the code to see a video of how to assemble the meal. And a New York City bar sells cocktail kits that come with a QR code: Customers who scan the code are taken to step-by-step instruction videos that help them learn how to make the cocktails.
If your products and services could benefit from instructions, QR codes can help.
- A grocery store could put a code on the shelf next to products to offer instructions or recipe tutorials.
- A salon owner could share makeup application tips customers would access by scanning a QR code on a business card or product packaging.
How to get started with QR codes
QR codes can provide a fun way to engage customers. Here are some simple steps to get started:
- Determine the type of content that would enhance your business, such as sharing information, creating ambiance, or providing instructions.
- Curate the content. To offer music, create a private playlist on a platform like Spotify that can be accessed by customers who have the link. To share a video, you can hire a professional or simply ask a staff member to shoot it with a camera or smartphone. Then post the video to a platform like YouTube.
- When your content is live, use a QR code generator that will create a unique code to direct the user to the website URL you input.
- Finally, share the code on your packaging or on a label next to your product shelves.
Today’s customers are used to seeing QR codes when they pay or when they’re ready to order. By using these codes to provide unique experiences, your customers can engage with your brand, no matter where they are.