My QR code experiment: 9 brands at the Mall of America on Black Friday


I’ve long been skeptical of the QR code madness among marketers. Sure, I’ve read all sorts of numbers around QR code adoption–good and bad. But many of the studies still pin *understanding* (not adoption) of QR codes in the 30 percent range. So, I tend to think, as a rule, QR codes are pretty over-hyped among marketers.

Follow my logic for a moment. For any brand to be successful using QR codes,  your customers would need to follow a few steps. 1) They would need to understand what a QR code is and how it works (see 30 percent number). 2) They would need to have a smartphone AND a QR code scanner on their phones (numbers of smart phone users have recently been identified around 50 percent–those with QR code readers is most likely a smaller percentage). 3) They would need to see the QR code AND be compelled enough to take 1-3 minutes to scan it and consume the content you’re driving them to. 4) Your content would need to be compelling enough to get them to take action–the ultimate end goal.

I might argue that’s an awfully damn tall order to get a customer to do steps 1-4 as outlined above. A DAMN tall order.

And that thinking is partially what drove my little experiment on Black Friday at the Mall of America.

You see, we’ve seen a number of examples of brands using the codes in their marketing efforts–so we know what the brands are thinking/hoping to achieve. But, what we haven’t seen a lot of is the user experience side of this equation and what that really looks like and means for brand awareness, loyalty and ultimately, purchase.

So, I took a page out of Tom Webster’s book and did my own work–a lesson he extolled at BlogWorld LA a few weeks ago.

My goal was simple: To look at the user experience side of QR codes on the biggest shopping day of the year (Black Friday) at the biggest mall in the U.S. (the Mall of America) and analyze the results and lay out some key learnings and lessons for brands considering using QR codes.

I looked at two key areas: Creativity and Execution. For the purposes of this experiment, I just looked at in-store signage at the Mall, even though I’m fully aware there are other executions that include QR codes (print advertising, for example). Just needed some focus.

I reviewed 9 brands at the Mall, plus the Mall of America itself since they were organizing a unique event centered around QR codes (more on that in a post later this week). And, I attempted to grade each brand, just so we could prioritize and put a bit of a “curve” around this experiment (as unscientific as that is).

Let’s get to it.


What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: No huge points for creativity here, but the code is part of a branded campaign on the Sketchers store-front.

Execution: First, the video the code links to is three-plus minutes. I don’t want to watch a three-minute video at home on my laptop, let alone on my mobile device. That’s just way too long. The video discusses the concept of “minimal shoes” and Sketchers take on that and their proprietary technology. Interesting stuff, but again, not worth three minutes of my time while I’m standing in front of your store.

Grade: B-


Old Navy

What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: Unique execution here, using QR codes as part of a larger holiday recruiting campaign for Old Navy. The signage was clear and easy to understand, and the QR code fit nicely into that package.

Execution: The scan took you directly to the recruiting page, which featured corporate, design, warehouse and store positions. Pretty straightforward. The only thing I would have done differently here would be to direct people to a specific landing page with store-only positions. After all, that’s what they were seeking–why mess around with the corporate and design jobs, which fell right at the top of the page?

Grade: B+


Lane Bryant

What I scanned:


Screen grab:

Creativity: Lane Bryant certainly isn’t the first brand to drive QR code scanners to a YouTube video. And they definitely aren’t the first to drive people to a “behind-the-scenes” video. Not many points for creativity here in my view.

Execution: The video is well done, and it’s short (under a minute). So, that piece works. But, the video doesn’t solve my problem, give me a deal/coupon or provide me other information I don’t already have. It’s merely a standard behind-the-scenes video starring some relatively attractive women without tops on (that was clearly their attention-getter).

Grade: C



What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: Admittedly, this sign was part of a promotion Macy’s unveiled a while ago. I was excited to see this in-store, but could only find a handful of these signs around. I’m guessing this “campaign” was over–yet, they still had the signs in store (foreshadowing alert!).

Execution: Anytime the folks scanning QR codes are taken to a landing page with the words “404–File Not Found”, well, that’s not a good thing. In fact, I think that qualifies as an unmitigated failure. I know the campaign is over, so why not take the signs down completely? More of an operations issue than anything, but part of a larger lesson for Macy’s.

Grade: F (I can’t not give them an F here–not trying to be harsh)



What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: The QR code on the Columbia store-front includes no mention of what to expect when I scan the code. No accompanying signage. Not any kid of explantation around what it is even, for the uninitiated.

Execution: The video’s actually not half-bad. It talks about a “body heat management system” (that’s too good to make up, folks) named “Omni Heat.” The video explains what Omni Heat is, and even includes a nice graphic that lays it all out. The rest of the video features young people engaging in outdoor activities (skiing, tubing), wearing Columbia gear with this Omni Heat layered in. Nothing unique here–but a nice explanation of the technology.

Grade: C-


Ultra Diamonds

What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: Not much creativity here–in the signage or the landing page. The signage does tell me I can expect a deal, but not much more.

Execution: Classic case of not planning for the execution. As you can see above, after I scanned the code, I was directed to a site that is clearly not optimized for mobile use. I can’t see the offers. I can’t even tell what site I’m on. If you’re going to take all the time to direct me to a site where I’m guessing I can actually buy your products, you better be damn sure it’s optimized for a mobile device to I can buy said product on my phone.

Grade: D


What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: The signage is clear, easy to understand and tells me exactly what I’m going to get when I scan the code. The idea behind the program is fairly straight-forward for a social program. Asking you to tell Roxy why you and your “BFF” deserve to win and encouraging you to get the word out. But, it was the only such program I saw affiliated with a QR code while at the Mall.

Execution: Here’s the thing with this idea–it’s just too hard and takes too much time for someone who just scanned the code standing outside your store-front. I mean, I like the idea. But, to ask someone to not only scan the code, but THEN to also fill out their name, email address, zip code, date of birth, and tell a story about why you and your BFF deserve to win (in less than 250 characters) is almost unrealistic. I’d be curious to know how many people have actually done this. I just think that’s a lot to ask of someone who’s standing outside your store on their phone.

Grade: C+


American Eagle

What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: No huge creativity point here. Just a straight-forward way to get customers to download the AE app for exclusive deals and content.

Execution: Not all that sexy, but I like this approach. I like that they tell customers exactly what they’ll get when they scan the code (the AE app). I like that the landing page tells you exactly what the app will deliver, including a bulleted list of all the relevant features. And, I really like the app itself (and I’m not even a AE shopper). It offers a rewards program, a “style mixer” program, mobile-only offers and it even offered me 20% off my first app purchase.

Grade: A-


What I scanned:

Screen grab:

Creativity: The in-store signage is great, but it’s all about Facebook. The code is buried in the Facebook messaging. Now, that may be their point. Maybe they’re just using the code to direct people to their Facebook page. As you can see from the landing page, that doesn’t come across in the execution.

Execution: The landing page I was sent to was clean, easy to navigate and laid out very well for a mobile device. But, it doesn’t align with the signage and my initial point of contact. If they want people to “like” them on Facebook, why not just direct people straight to their Facebook page? Or, a landing page with a link to the Facebook page? Bit of a disconnect for me here, even though the landing page was well done technically.

Grade: C


The winners

American Eagle (using QR codes to get people to sign up for the AE app, which encourages e-commerce and loyalty)

Old Navy (using QR codes as part of a larger holiday recruiting strategy)


The losers

Macy’s (scan took me to a dead page)

Ultra Diamonds (scan took me to a site that wasn’t optimized for mobile devices)


Key lessons

* Make sure the site you’re driving customers to is optimized for mobile use. If it’s not, you’re wasting your time–and, more importantly, your customers.

* Think about the action you’re asking customers to take. Think about QR codes just like any other marketing tactic. What do you want people to do as a result of the effort? What’ the call to action? Is it clear? Is it easy to understand? Is it compelling?

* Make sure you set expectations clearly. Since there is such a lack of understanding around these codes, expectations must be crystal clear. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. Tell me what I’m going to get before I get it. And, then deliver. Make damn sure you deliever.

* Keep it simple. REALLY simple. Don’t get too cute with your QR code campaign. Instead, keep it straight-forward (see setting expectations above). The technology is complex enough–don’t ask your customers to do too much.

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45 comments on “My QR code experiment: 9 brands at the Mall of America on Black Friday

  1. kmskala says:

    Your experiment hit the nail on the head and why QR codes, as cool as they are, won’t likely get mainstream adoption.

    1) Awarness and education — it’s just another thing for people to understand.

    2) Lack of value — there’s little value for the consumer. How many videos must we watch before we get tired of snapping QR codes to watch videos?

    3) No business value — what is the QR code doing to drive business? Simply attaching your app to the QR code is all well and good, but you still have to entice consumers to use the app and spend money. A QR code isn’t the best method for that.

    I find QR codes fascinating — when done right. The problem is, right now, it’s simply marketers marketing to marketers. Very few QR code campaigns have been worth the effort, IMO.

  2. OptiscanApp says:

    Great little experiment there, Arik. I am a little confused by your comments though. You have Old Navy as a winner, but then your first key lesson is to have a mobile landing page – which they don’t! Not only that, it fails to display the relevant positions, so you have to zoom, scroll AND search the pages. I agree the idea of integrating it in their recruitment strategy is good, but they haven’t carried it out well enough to be considered a winner imo.

    The Roxy comp may have worked better as a Facebook ‘Like’ + coupon, following it up with the story competition at a later date – once they had the extra followers – via FB.

    The Macy’s one is disappointing :/

  3. eric_wheeler says:

    Looks like you found a fun way to spice up your trip to the Mall of America. Nice breakdown of QR Code marketing campaigns.

  4. arikhanson says:

    @OptiscanApp Good point about Old Navy. I was probably a bit generous with their “grade” because I like the idea–and it was such a more strategic use of the code than the others. But, I did point out the fact that you had to search around for the jobs, saying that I’d like to see a specific landing page that highlighted the jobs they were promoting. So yeah, they could have executed a bit better, but I thought they had one of the more well-thought-out ideas.

  5. arikhanson says:

    @kmskala #3 is the biggee. If it’s not selling widgets or driving traffic to our Web site, why should I care? If I was a CMO, that’s what I’d say. And, i think that’s what a lot of them are saying.

  6. bryanjones says:

    Fantastic way to show marketers what the consumer experience is really like. Thanks for sharing!

  7. japrilsmith says:

    Thank you for sharing, Arik! I personally have not seen many great uses of QR codes here around Charlotte yet. As a budget consumer in a shopping mall, I personally would prefer to have access to insider deals by scanning a QR code from a store window. After finding a great coupon to use that day in the store, it would definitely drive me to at least walk in to check out the inventory. I would never dare spend 3 minutes + to watch a video on their latest products, etc. Most of the mobile pages that you were led to through these QR codes offered no real value for me.

    I, however, do see the value in QR codes but certainly think the general public is still miles behind on this concept. As @kmskala stated, it’s simply marketers marketing to marketers. But with that being said, it looks like most of the marketers for these stores have just jumped into using the technology for the sake of being there instead of adding value to or simplifying the shopper’s experience.

  8. sheilas says:

    This is one of the most helpful, clear and punchy assessments of QR code usability that I’ve ever seen. What makes me crazy is that all you did was be a user for a minute. Why don’t the organizations who screw up making QR codes EVER seem to do that themselves? They’re not paid to deliver garbage; they’re paid to think the process all the way through. It’s not that hard.

  9. mikelz says:

    Great post! Really creates ideas for local businesses looking to get into the QR code arena. Thanks!

  10. visiture says:

    I love this post! However, I will say that I was in Best Buy and I used the QR code on the back of an accessory item to see if it was compatible with the device I had. It took me right to the item page and I found a list with compatible devices within about 20 seconds. It would’ve taken me ten times longer to find a Best Buy employee on Black Friday. QR codes win there.

  11. girlmeetsgeek says:

    Another fantastic post. Loving your hesitation on QR codes and statistics. Great work.

  12. jlbraaten says:

    I like how this post put the collateral and the landing pages into perspective. People often forget to compare the two to make sure there is relevance and value for the customer. It can be done, but it has to be done right. I’m bookmarking this post to share with anyone who says “let’s put a QR code on that!”

  13. NicholeSchlecht says:

    Well done. I think so many brands miss the boat on what their customers want from them. Offering up a video after the amount of work that goes into scanning the QR code isn’t enough to make me go in the store and purchase a product. I see a video and even as a marketer, I close the screen and move on. I want deals… especially on Black Friday.

    Companies should make it fun and interactive. Maybe link the QR code to a site where they play a game that leads them around the store to find better deals. It will make it fun and give the customer a greater incentive for taking the time to interact with their brand. Additionally, it will allow the customer to possibly see much more of the store and merchandise than they normally would, leaving a greater potential for larger sales.

    It’s definitely interesting to see major brands fall flat when it comes to major promotions and missing out on a huge opportunity to make their company more interactive for their customers. There really is something to understanding who your customers are and what they expect or even need from you that will determine great success.

    I never made it to the bandwagon when it came to QR codes because of what was involved on the customer’s end to make it successful. I do however believe that there can be more creative ways to drive customers to take those steps, engage them and have a successful campaign.

  14. Tosk59 says:

    Nice look at QR codes. It’s true that many, if not most, QR code implementations are problematic/flawed, examples of both at

  15. Tosk59 says:

    Nice look at some QR codes. It’s true that many, if not most implementations are problematic/flawed. A number pf examples here:

    (sorry for the previous typo)

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  17. nvictor says:

    Thanks for the great post. I appreciate the examples.

  18. rob_whitley says:

    At this point in QR code adoption, I think marketers looking to launch a campaign should assume the targeted consumer attention span to be extremely short from the get-go. Combine that with a strong emphasis on points #3 (put themselves in the consumers’ shoes, “Would I really want to scan this??”) and #4 above (bring the value, Nichole touched on this) — but of course, make this post required reading beforehand! Interesting work.

  19. arikhanson says:

    @rob_whitley Completely agree with the short attention span notion. If I were using a QR code in my campaign, I would coach our team that we have 60 seconds or less with the consumer. Not a second more.

    And the customer experience piece was the whole impetus behind my experiment. If more brands actually went through what their customers went through on a regular basis, imagine the difference that would make in their work. It would be mind-blowing. Yet, very few brands take the time for this important step.

  20. rob_whitley says:

    @arikhanson@rob_whitley So true.

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