Canadian Rental Service

Code, read

By Jim Chliboyko   


If you’re in retail or run a store, you might remember a detail or two about the 2002 Spielberg movie Minority Report

If you’re in retail or run a store, you might remember a detail or two about the 2002 Spielberg movie Minority Report, specifically the parts in which Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is personally greeted by the holograms and floating ads in the stores and malls of the year 2054, thanks to retinal scanning technology.

Giving customers instant access to detailed information about the products you carry takes pressure off your sales force and makes it less likely customers will leave to shop around.

The holograms and ads he encounters make suggestions as to what he (or, rather, the man whose retinas he’s borrowed) might want to buy, and ask how his last purchases are holding up. Futuristic!

While that level of technology hasn’t quite yet been established in your friendly neighbourhood mall, the current tech involving chips and readers has been progressing quite nicely for the rest of us in the 2010s. And, even more reassuring, we’re the ones doing the scanning.


One of the more popular, new-fangled bits of technology these days is the quick response code. Examples of its use are everywhere. The Japanese automobile manufacturer Mazda has decided to pair up QR codes with its own rental units, providing the renter with more information, and retailers like Future Shop and Wal-Mart have QR codes on display in front of their bigger-ticket items, like televisions. There are QR codes on ads in newspapers, on the fences of construction projects and stuck to the front doors of Tim Hortons establishments.

The ancestor of the QR code, the bar code, has been with us for a number of years, ever since the American inventors Silver and Woodward experimented with ultraviolet ink in the late 1940s. Like many inventions, bar codes had a specific purpose initially – detailing the items in railroad cars (sort of like today’s RFID chips) ­ until the technology was harnessed by supermarket chains, who noticed the potential of bar code technology back in the 1960s. According to industry legend, the first retail product that was scanned was a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

The technology does change over time, of course, but a couple of generations later, the idea remains the same: a device is used to read a symbol, and that symbol then gives the user some deeper, more detailed information. That’s the basic description. To that end, many firms have adopted this scan-and-read technology, whether it’s companies using RFID tags for inventory or marketing firms using QR codes on promotional material to, say, guide someone to one of their websites. It is something that has evolved quite a bit in the last three or four years.

“Early firms used to charge $1,000 per QR code, and then say ‘have a nice day,’” said Erik Goldhar, of the Toronto-based mobile marketing firm QRE8 (pronounced “create”). “We saw an opportunity for looking at the best practices of using QR codes to generate business.”

A giant QR code outside the under-construction Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg.


The rental industry, too, has the ability to use this technology for its own advantage, as detailed in the October 2011, issue of this magazine (“Automate your walk-around”). Along with the versatility of it, there is a lot of other upside to adopting the technology, especially when considering the numbers of customers one is attempting to court. The rates of smartphone adoption are staggering. It is estimated that over 100 million iPhones have been sold in the few short years they’ve been around (as of last March), while Google claims there are 130 million Android devices being used. And that’s not including all the iPads and other tablets out there, too.

Don’t forget, all those users are countable, as well. There are estimates that 20 per cent of U.S. smartphone users have used their phones to scan QR codes. Canadian rates of adoption are a little lower. That’s only one-fifth, but represents a figure in the tens of millions.

“After two years, about 90 per cent of our clientele are American,” says QRE8’s Goldhar. “It’s amazing, it’s caught on much quicker there.”

“One of the biggest things are the debates: are QR codes worth anything useful or are they just a shiny new toy?” asks Goldhar

It is getting to the point where people may start to expect some sort of mobile computer interaction once they set foot in your business, whether you provide them with a device or they bring their own. And, more and more, people who are bringing their own devices to use in your place of business will use those devices specifically for product research.

According to the 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report, presented by comScore, a prominent American mobile marketing firm, “More than half of the U.S. smartphone population used their phone to perform retail research while inside a store in 2011, illustrating the emergence of savvy smartphone shoppers who bring online shopping behaviours in-store.” Interestingly, the report also mentions differing mobile use between the sexes. Females use mobile computing to share information, while males tend to use it for product research.

Adopting QR codes can either be a DIY proposition, or you can hire a firm to guide you through an affordable campaign. If you are looking to do it yourself, there are a few websites, like Kaywa (, with which you can generate your own codes, linking them to a URL, an online video or other important information. Remember, whatever is scanned can be tracked, because a scanned code leads to a hit on the hit counter, which is another benefit to using the codes. And after you do your work, your QR code is saveable, printable and/or insertable.

Goldhar’s firm, meanwhile, tailors a campaign with its own proprietary QR codes.

Some people say QR codes are free,” says Goldhar. “When we started, they were $1,000  each. What we charge is $150-200 a month for our QR code system.” Goldhar explains that his system can be thought of as a campaign or file management system. “With our proprietary QR code generator, clients create a QR code, they print it off, they put it into their printing materials, and it gives them full reporting and tracking abilities,” he explains.

Goldhar also makes a distinction between using either static or dynamic QR codes. With the former, a QR code is hooked permanently to a specific link, whereas a more dynamic system can change and never be obsolete. If a link is for information about a particular piece of equipment, and that equipment changes, you aren’t stuck with the earlier link, and can make necessary changes. Goldhar uses the example of contest information linked to a particular QR code. When that contest ends, you may want to link the information to a newer contest.

“It extends the shelf life of a QR code,” he said.

There are also other considerations.

“A mobile visitor to a mobile website is strapped for time. They are usually on a data plan,” says Goldhar. “We leave a lot of that fluffy stuff [elements that are usually on non-mobile websites] out. There could be some information, but mostly we want to be direct and to the point. And optimized.”

It is also important to always consider the customer before employing new technology. A key consideration is to make sure your links are optimized.

Ultimately, mobile optimization is the key to a decent presentation on a mobile device. Goldhar says one of the examples he uses to differentiate between mobile websites and non-mobile websites is and

“What is not a shiny new toy, whether big or small, is the importance of having a mobile web presence. One of the things that became quickly apparent early on is that although the QR codes have a wow factor, they are secondary to a mobile website. People scan these things for their smartphones, but the sites are sometimes not yet optimized for mobile. The user experience is, for lack of a better term, crap.”

“The value is not in the code, but in the mobile web experience.”

Print this page


Stories continue below