Making a Comeback: How QR Codes are Changing Retail

Mike Welsh
Publication Date
21 January 2021

Making a Comeback: How QR Codes are Changing Retail

2020 was tough, but digital innovation made it bearable 

As tough as 2020 was for us all, I often think about how much more bleak our lives would have been even just 10 years ago. The ability of digital tools to help us work from home, stay in touch with our loved ones, and entertain ourselves with never ending streaming content would not have been possible just a few years ago.

Technology offered more dining options, too. We’ve seen restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, and others get extremely innovative with contactless retail solutions. By tapping into mobile technology, curbside services, and delivery options, they were able to provide safe options and keep their doors open. It’s been remarkable, and the response has been surprising for many. Customers have been incentivized to try new brands and shift their loyalty to the ones that offer them more support and security – something that will remain long after the pandemic. In fact, 90% of Mobiquity survey respondents agree that they will continue to use technology to reduce the number of things they touch post-COVID. With statistics like these, companies need to invest in the technology that will retain and delight their customers.

Enter QR codes - the gateway to convenient in-restaurant experiences

If you haven’t considered QR codes for your business yet, you should consider them this year. This technology, whose obsolescence has been predicted for almost the past decade, is making a huge comeback thanks to its unique ability to broadly offer both safety and convenience. 

If you’re wondering how QR codes fit in the restaurant setting, allow me to explain. Patrons use their phones to scan a QR code placed anywhere in your restaurant or store (even on the outside window!) to view your menu or inventory on their own mobile phone. Replacing printed, paper menus with dynamic, digital ones not only removes a communal touch point but also provides you with the ability to quickly change your menu as needed, adding seasonal items or removing items that have sold out. Taking the digital menu concept further, allowing diners to use their own mobile devices could enable them to place orders and pay their bill as soon as they’re ready, helping turn tables faster on busy nights. Another way restaurants are using QR codes includes gamification. For example, Wawa, the beloved regional chain of convenience stores and gas stations, recently introduced an augmented reality experience for children. When a customer purchases a kids meal, a mobile device or tablet can scan the box that the meal comes in and allow the child to play games all from the safety and comfort of their home. All of these are ways that restaurants can use QR codes to reduce key points of friction in the dining experience to foster increased loyalty both during COVID-19 and beyond.

While a truly dynamic digital menu may require some upfront investment in artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), the payoff is vast. McDonald’s uses AI/ML to promote different menu items based on knowing who a person is (via loyalty information in the app), the weather, historical patterns, local events, and more. One way McDonald’s does this is when it's raining. They know that they'll sell more coffee on rainy days so they offer a promotion via the app using a push notification to encourage customers to get a special coffee on their way to work or as they’re running errands. This kind of investment in digital is less about the technology and way more about making the customer experience as enjoyable and frictionless as possible.

2021 continues to be about digital customer experiences

Saying that 2020 brought surprises is a huge understatement. And while COVID-19 certainly tops everyone’s list, the resurgence of QR codes and the possibilities that come along with them will rank somewhere on mine.  While digital adoption made years of progress in a short amount of time, some old stand-bys like mobile apps and QR codes proved their value this year.  

We can’t be certain when we’ll see the end of social distancing and the beginning of a renaissance in dining out, but we know that expectations around digital experiences won’t end with COVID. Consumers have experienced the advantages that come with digital solutions and will continue to seek these conveniences in 2021 and beyond. 

Are you ready to level up your digital customer experience strategy? Let’s talk.

Mike Welsh

Mike Welsh is the Chief Creative Officer at Mobiquity, leading a team of experience architects, experience designers, and conversational designers to deliver engaging and compelling solutions in collaboration with engineers who bring these solutions to life. He has been doing this for over 27 years, having joined Mobiquity near it’s beginning. Mike notes that what originally drew him to his role is the ability to transform experiences for companies and their customers. What keeps him and the team engaged is the opportunity to find out what truly transforms human experience and then bring it to life. He’s a firm believer in the power of a team and its ability to create impact derived from insights. Mike makes no special claim of expertise or experience because every engagement is a team effort. Each time he and the team engage with a client’s challenges and opportunities, good things can happen. Curiosity and a core belief that some of the best work comes when a team understands the humans behind their work is central to understanding the role that technology can play. Mike’s time spent with clients and teams includes work within creative, business, and technology fields, bringing many skills to the table including: experience strategy, experience design, product strategy, and product design. His industry knowledge within these functions spans healthcare, retail, ecommerce, and financial services and he has lectured on these topics at University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Moore College of Art and Design and various conferences. In addition, Mike holds a Nielsen Norman Group UXC certificate working toward master certification. While no one is a bigger Mobiquity champion than Mike, much of what fuels his passion comes from the time he spends away from work. He is a father of three, an avid runner, traveler, cook, and outdoorsman. A voracious consumer of audiobooks, Mike is always learning and drawing connections about how we can make a difference today for our future selves. When thinking about what’s to come, Mike believes that artificial intelligence, immersive storytelling, and machine learning will play a significant role in defining experiences humans have with technology.

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