Barcodes have come a long way from the UPC codes that took grocery stores by storm in the 1970s.
On one day recently —Black Friday, 2010—product barcode scanning was 30 times higher than the same day in 2009. Thirty times in just 12 months! If my retirement fund behaved that way I wouldn't have to keep working until I'm 80. But that's another story.
In order of popularity, toy scans beat out electronics (#2) and housewares (#3). But books beat out everybody. Seems that folks with smart phones also like to read. Hmmm. I thought they liked to text each other and compare notes on who had more electronica on their phone. Shows what I know.
Anyway, the huge increase in barcode usage started with the acceptance of smart phone technology. Just a few years ago smart phones were simply clever ads on TV. Today 30% of us—phone-using Americans, that is—have smart phones with their myriad downloadable applications. "Apps" for the cognoscente.
Among those apps are ways to find the best deal on a specific item in a specific geographic area, price comparisons, manufacturers' coupons, and offers from restaurants where you can relax between forays into the maelstrom at the mall.
Jumping on the barcode bandwagon, Big Box retailers like Toys R US and Target as well as cyber behemoth Amazon are using barcodes to push product.
Toys R Us stores have barcode scanners so sales clerks can scan mobile e-mail coupons straight from the smart phones. Target lets customers earn points simply for entering the store and scanning certain items. No purchase necessary.
Amazon lets users scan items in brick-and-mortar stores see if they can get a better deal through the online retailing giant. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and muse wasn't Times' Man of the Year a decade ago just because he had a pretty face!)
But barcodes are a lot more flexible than just aiding shopaholics. They have a real place in marketing for smaller companies, too! Companies like yours and mine.
For instance, want to get people from your corporate brochure or business card to your really kickin' website? A QR code does the trick. Point. Click. Show off your flash.
I mean, how impressive is that?
QR codes are also popping up on road signs, billboards, window posters, bus signage, newspaper advertising, church bulletins, sports programs and even clothing.
I've seen them on "For Sale" signs in front of million dollar houses; take a cyber tour of your dream home and never leave your car.
Click on the sign in the restaurant window to see the daily specials.
Click on the politician's roadside sign and watch him tell you his policy statement on road congestion while you're stuck in traffic.
Click on the barcoded tee shirt worn by a landscaping company employee and see what the company can do to help your weed-infested lawn even as you see guided tours of their favorite success stories.
Once you know what QR codes and a bit of imagination can do for your marketing, you'll see a thousand uses.
It's what you do with it that counts.
Belly up to the barcode, boys. It's almost closing time and you need to get with it.