2-D Barcodes Present Path To Get Shoppers To ‘Opt-In’ To In-Store


During the course of 2009, we have seen more retailers utilizing shopper path tracking and gaze tracking to better understand how shoppers are responding to in-store promotions (both traditional and digitally-based). As these technology tools become more prevalent, we have seen some retailers use them responsibly and others use them to track age, race and gender with the intent to eventually serve up ‘targeted’ messages to shoppers. This raises potential privacy concern and, until we get in front of them, retailers are looking for new methods to stimulate shopper ‘opt-in’ to their targeted in-store promotions.

One of the technologies of great potential interest for this is the 2-D barcode. 2-D, or 2-dimensional barcodes, are technically a set of graphics, glyph, or ‘symbology’. The have a much higher capacity than the 1-D barcodes. Like their 1-D brethren, they are each as unique as an individual’s fingerprint and provide an instantaneous method to respond to a marketer’s offer or call-to action. They’ve been hot property in Japan, France, Spain and some areas of Germany, and are slowly trickling into the US.

2-D bar codes work via mobile phones. The shopper sees a 2-D code on some kind of marketing vehicle (printed or digital signs, product packaging, floor, etc.) and uses their mobile phone camera to take a photo of it. The camera catches the image and passes it to the 2D Code Reader Application, which then interprets (decodes) the code and takes action to resolve it. Due to different implementations, resolving the code may require interaction with a network server.

Once the 2-D barcode has been resolved, the device will start the appropriate application to activate the function for the campaign’s call-to-action. Just like waving a price tag under a digital price checker, they “wave and receive”.  



There are a few ‘flavors’ of 2-D codes, all competing to be the de facto standard. These include Data Matrix, QR (or Quick Reference) codes, shot codes, EZcode (“easy codes” by Scanbuy) and the Microsoft Tag. This has been one of the challenges in all countries and we expect the same as they become more pervasive here. But the CTIA (the American Wireless Association) has a Code Scan activity committee to define the 2-D barcode ecosystem and recommendations for 2-D barcode symbology and code reader application use. Many major brands are involved, leading us to believe that they see great potential in the technology. *See if you want to learn more.

Sprint recently announced that the are now pre-loading all of their new phones with Scanbuy’s readers and we may be seeing more wireless companies following suit. We’ve also seen some very unique promotions hit the press, such as Doritos printing a 2-D code on single serve product bags that were scanned by consumers to permit access to an invite-only concert. Retailers have real incentive to better understand them and find creative uses for them to aid in shopper experience.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand the potential privacy issues for any shopper tracking technology that you are looking to activate.
  • Until governing parties create guidelines for shopper tracking, stay on the safe side keep an eye out for new methods for shopper ‘opt-in’.
  • Keep up with the progress of 2-D barcodes, as they will have great in-store potential and ensure 100% shopper permission.

Laura is a 17-year Agency veteran with a diverse background in traditional advertising, brand planning, interactive marketing, digital signage, merchandising and retail/environmental design—all geared towards creating consumer-centric solutions for the business challenges of her clients. She joined Miller Zell as a Vice President and led accounts such as Circuit City, Wal-Mart and H&R Block, working intimately with her clients to help them build strategies around all points of customer experience and communications. Now, with Retail Media Consulting, Laura and her team focus on helping brands strategize and execute digital media experiences within the store as a marketing vehicle. Laura is a Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board member, Chair of the POPAI Digital Signage Advocacy Committee, writes a bi-monthly column for Digital Signage Magazine and is an “expert resource” lecturer, workshop teacher and author in the In-Store Digital Media space. Her firm published their first book, “Lighting up the Aisle: Practices and Principles for In-store Digital Media”, in 2007 (available at

Laura can be reached at

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