QR codes direct a mobile device to a particular website from physical items such as product tags, printed promotional materials and packaging. Invented for use in inventory tracking by Japanese company Denso Wave, QR codes have spread into the consumer sphere. These small printed boxes, technically called matrix barcodes, are similar in many respects to UPC labels, the standard bar code seen on consumer goods. The major difference is the functionality (1). The information contained in the code includes any number of details. For example, a correctly formatted QR code, can direct a mobile device to a particular website when scanned, which can help ecommerce store owners drive traffic. The codes are scanned using software available for smartphones and tablets that many consumers already have on hand.

Applications for marketing

QR codes have their limitations when it comes to ecommerce. They have to be scanned by a device, and are only functional when printed and not displayed on a screen. However, they're free to make and use, and any customer with a mobile device can easily scan them. For ecommerce stores, they're typically used on packaging or promotional items to provide a simple way to go directly to an online store.

QR codes are also used to offer special coupon codes for customers who have already made a purchase (2). By using a QR code, a store owner limits usage of the coupon to recent customers only. Codes direct customers to social media pages, as well. It's also possible for a QR code to send a customer directly to a product page or PayPal "Buy Now" payment page, so you use them in conjunction with promotional inserts about a specific product.

How are they created?

Because Denso Wave has declined to exercise its patent rights, there are many free online QR code generators, as well as software offered by Denso Wave for download. In most circumstances, creating a code is as simple as entering the URL or required information and clicking a button. From there, you can export and save a QR code file as an image to use on packaging, product tags, advertising and many other materials for your ecommerce store.

1. "What is a QR Code?," Denso Wave.

2. "QR Code Generator," QR Stuff.

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