Target Using QR Codes To Enable Surreptitious Santas

Written by Evan Schuman
October 4th, 2012

Target on Wednesday (Oct. 3) unveiled an in-store chain-wide QR trial that will simultaneously test almost unlimited inventory of a handful of the season’s hottest toys and whether shoppers would like to avoid purchase lines in exchange for multi-day shipping delays, in addition to assessing a suggestion that this option can be used to hide gift purchases from curious young eyes. Not bad for some cheap QR code stickers.

Given all of those interesting attributes being tested, the trial—which starts October 14—is going to have to extrapolate data from an unusually small product sample: 20 toys that will be featured on endcaps. Granted, those are literally the expected 20 hottest toys from this upcoming holiday season. But it’s still only 20. That’s statistically tiny within a store with an average of 70,000 SKUs.

The idea is that shoppers will scan the endcap displays with a smartphone and then the product will be sent to the shopper’s home—or any destination desired, such as the relative’s house where they expect to be on the day of gift opening—for free.

The free shipping is a very nice touch, as it negates one of the two downsides to in-store online purchases: shipping costs and shipping delays. “ standard shipping is 3 to 5 days and that’s our default checkout setting for online orders,” said Target spokesperson Eddie Baeb late on Wednesday. “I’m still researching to determine/confirm 100 percent that standard shipping is the option that will be used with this campaign when it goes live October 14.”

But the inventory aspect of this trial is potentially the most interesting. This is a big step beyond “if we don’t have it in stock, just buy it from our Web site.” The idea of scanning a QR code that automatically gets the customer to a specific part of the site, autopopulates the scanned product and then automatically includes the free shipping code radically accelerates and facilitates the in-store purchase process.

The shopper still must manually key in the desired address and payment data. That task is hardly holiday ho-ho-ho happy when it means thumbing info into a smartphone in the middle of the pushing and shoving of holiday crowds.

The question being tested: Will customers see this QR code entry into the Web site as fast and easy? Will it address the problem of stores running out of precisely the most popular gift items?

Will it be a nice way to let shoppers who just want that one gift to avoid long checkout lines? The free shipping comes back into play here, too. If customers simply purchase the toys online from home, they would have to pay shipping. So will this freebie give those desktop shoppers a reason to come into the store instead? And, once there, perhaps see something else they like?

It’s indeed a fascinating concept. But limiting the trial to 20 items seems to undercut the analytical value of whatever data is generated. With an average of 70,000 products, would a QR trial of 7,000 products have been more helpful? Heck, how about 700 products?


2 Comments | Read Target Using QR Codes To Enable Surreptitious Santas

  1. ed Says:

    By using in-store QR codes, Target may reduce the effects showrooming by focusing the mobile device on in-store options rather than external competitor e-commerce sites.

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    True. Or they could just as easily increase showrooming by encouraging shoppers to do it and making it easier, more comfortable, for them. But I’d argue that none of this is particularly important. Mobile will become a standard part of shopper interactions so there’s no way to prevent customers from shopping around. The best technique is the 100-year-old one: courteous and well-informed associates and plenty of them; the right assortment; better prices; better experience. In short, if you just do your job properly, showrooming will be little more than a minor irritant. If it’s much more than that, you probably have bigger problems than mobile integration.


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