Bricks and mortar shop? Use QR codes to fight back

Revised 18 March 2021

The shopper with mobile in hand

What to do about the person wandering around your aisles scanning goods with their smartphone? Are they comparing prices trying to decide where to buy from? Is it a competitor logging your prices so as to match or better yours? Is your shop being used as the showroom for a web-based business? Or is it perfectly innocent and they just finding out more about the items in question?

It's hard to prevent this behaviour so why not turn it to advantage and make it easy for your customers to scan goods with their smartphones. By this we mean place large-ish QR codes, bar codes or even text hyperlinks near the product, but the links will take the customer to your website, not some online retail giant.

QR codes

You’ve probably seen them around even if you didn’t know what they were. The following take you to this website’s home page – – and articles page – – respectively.

Caz website QR code Caz articles QR code

You – and your customer – may need an app on your phone to be able to scan it, but these are readily available for free.

Generating QR codes

If you just want to experiment with generating codes, just search for QR code generator on the web or just try one of these:, or

Tracking QR codes

Of course you may want to know where this QR code has been found. You can create QR codes that link to web addresses (also known as URLs) that have additional information eg:

The highlighted bit is known as the query string. The question mark gives that away. The data is in key/value pairs which in this case are where (key) with a value of bbe, followed by year (key) with a value of 2014. You can go on a bit with key/value pairs, but in this application a law of diminishing returns is likely to set in.

This query string data can be tracked with Google Analytics or similar, so you can see where the interest is coming from.

‘Dynamic’ QR codes

The trouble with anything physically printed is that it can hang around for longer than you expected it to be used. Say that you are using QR codes in your shop, in some printed magazines and even an exhibition or two. If you now change the model of a given product you stock to a newer one and the old model disappears off your website, then you need a means of redirecting the shopper to the right place.

You can use URL shortening and then manage the redirection with the shortening service provider, but a better solution might be to manage URL redirections on your website directly. Some website technologies allow you to use a database of redirections which makes the technicalities easy, though if the person doing the managing redirects an old reference for a toaster to a dishwasher, then the shopper may not be pleased.

Another way is to actually tell the shopper that the old model has been superseded by replacing the original web page with a notice to that effect, but with a link to their possible options. If there is only one option, you can jump to that page after 5-10 seconds automatically – give them time to read!

Ordering TOO?

If you have their interest, why not try to sell it to them as they are standing in the aisle? This saves them the bother of going through the physical checkout with its Saturday morning queue.

A mobile-friendly dedicated sales page with a buy now button might do the trick. Keep it as simple as possible though, if you think it’s worth it, you can still attempt to up-sell as they go through the order pipeline. Obviously what you don’t want to do is lose a big sale whilst trying to add on a small extra. But this is where your retail judgement will come into play.