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Global Retail: Smart shopping

Mobile technology starts to ring change in European stores

By Jason Holland
December 01, 2012

Quick Response (QR) codes have been around for nearly 20 years, invented in Japan by a Toyota subsidiary to quickly track vehicle components during the manufacturing process. Today, in line with the huge popularity of smartphones and tablets with code-scanning applications, it’s supermarkets that are the most excited by what the two-dimensional black and white barcodes can do for business. 

The general perception among European retailers is that new mobile technologies, with QR codes as the initial pacesetter, will increasingly make shopping not only easier for con-sumers, but create lucrative opportunities to engage with them. 

QR codes are being used on two levels: firstly, on print advertisements, where upon scanning a code using a QR decoder the consumer is directly linked to the product, a coupon or loyalty offer or some other form of exclusive content; secondly, on product packaging to provide details on such things as provenance as well as preparation techniques.

However, there are several other, more tailored ways in which QR codes enter the retail arena. For example, Sainsbury’s is currently trialing its own “Mobile Scan & Go” at two of its larger U.K. stores, whereby customers “check in” by scanning a QR code located at the stores’ entrance. They then use their device to scan their chosen products’ barcodes, and the app progressively tracks the amount spent, producing an end QR code on the phone’s display that can be scanned at the register to pay. 

For the time being, brands and retailers are mostly using QR codes as an educational tool, says Melissa Spiro, fish buyer with Waitrose. She says, however, that recent consumer behavior research has also found that more and more customers are using smartphone technology to check prices in the aisles. While this has focused on higher-value items, she believes it won’t be long before it moves down to lower value, day-to-day products.

“At Waitrose we have started using QR codes to get across our standards and sourcing policies to customers,” she says. “So we feel there’s a real opportunity to connect them with the seafood category through this technology.”

Starting in July, the retail chain introduced QR codes across its store-brand pork range as a means of highlighting its commitment to higher pig welfare standards and showcasing the farmers responsible for rearing them, as well as sharing recipes and cooking tips. It was the first time the retailer had used QR codes directly on its products. 

Spiro says over a one-month period, Waitrose counted 11,000 scans on its pork products, of which 40 percent were conducted in-store and 60 percent were at home.

“Inspiration, recipes and cooking-tip videos were the most popular choices [of content] at home. We are currently reviewing the results to see how we can take this further, but we do see it as a strong tool in helping customers choose their products and we are looking at rolling it out across other proteins and products in-store,” she says.

Spiro believes QR codes could alleviate the problem of overloading products with on-pack messaging, a situation that is set to intensify in 2013 with all the major U.K. supermarket chains recently agreeing to carry unified front-of-pack labeling that will combine traffic lights and color-coded guideline daily amounts (GDAs). It is hoped the new labels — which will include the words “high,” “medium” or “low” to indicate levels of fat, sugar and salt in products — will alleviate confusion among U.K. consumers who currently have to contend with several different systems.

“Retailers need to plan for the greatest impact; we need to talk to customers and find out what they want; understand the difference between price, education and inspirational messages and also look at how consumers share information and how that’s changing. We shouldn’t ignore what’s said on-pack, but bringing new technologies in-store is an advantage for the consumer,” says Spiro.

Probably the biggest concern for the U.K. grocery sector in recent years has been the drop in real household income, which in 2011 had its biggest decline in 30 years. Official statistics now put consumers’ average disposable income at the same level that they had just after World War II.

“With recent pressures on household budgets, they have been buying proteins that are more readily understandable. And the three items for £10 (€12.40/$16.07) deal that has become popular in a number of stores has allowed families to get a sense of value. This same perception needs to attach itself to fish.”  

As well as health, sustainability is a value of seafood that could be better communicated in the retail environment and QR codes would seem to be an ideal platform to communicate these positive messages to shoppers.

“Consumers care where their food comes from,” says Spiro. “Fish is an area where many consumers are becoming aware of sourcing and sustainability issues, thanks to the considerable influence exerted by celebrity chefs like Jamie [Oliver] and Hugh [Fearnley-Whittingstall]. As a result, many consumers now seek standards that will give them confidence in their purchase.

“We won’t stop talking about price, but we will look to get the balance right between price and value, especially with consumers’ knowledge of fishing practices increasing.”

David Mainon, senior technical manager of meat, fish and poultry with Asda, also sees a lot of potential in QR codes, although the Walmart subsidiary is yet to launch any consumer-facing initiatives.

“QR codes can do a whole range of things: They can tell the story of where the fish has come from; which boat caught it; how to cook it; you can incorporate blogs. We will definitely look at it,” he says.

With no evidence of any slowdown in consumer use of mobile technology, QR codes offer something new and exciting to retailers and the seafood category. The fact that many stores are now preparing to install free Wi-Fi would further suggest they see great, longterm opportunity in it.

Contributing Editor Jason Holland lives in London 

Find other SeaFood Business articles on QR codes here 

December 2012 - SeaFood Business     

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