Retail Execution

The Case for QR Codes: A Better Way for Brands to Gather First-Party Data


The pandemic has forever altered the retail landscape. Data from McKinsey shows that consumers are likely to continue many of the practices they adopted during stay-at-home orders, such as more online shopping and fewer visits to brick-and-mortar stores.

As e-commerce growth shows no signs of stopping, CG brands must embrace a digital-first sales strategy to stay competitive.

Against this backdrop, the end of Google’s third-party cookies is imminent, but that’s not necessarily bad news for consumer goods (CG) brands that rely on them for customer insights. Today, there's an opportunity to invest in first-party data; it’s the gold standard of customer insights because it gives brands complete control. It’s also free, reliable, and easy to collect online. But what about customers who shop in stores?

Enter QR codes, a technology that enables CG brands to engage in-store customers digitally and collect valuable insights from their target audience. Here’s why QR codes are an essential tool in any post-pandemic first-party data collection strategy.

Online First-Party Data Collection Is a Must in the Digital Future of Retail

While third-party data is appealing for its breadth and scale, creating a comprehensive audience profile from it is a guessing game at best. Aggregate sales data from retailers, or second-party data, paints a similarly incomplete picture in that it usually only captures how much was bought, not who did the buying.

First-party data from online behaviors is the critical starting point for any brand looking to scale up e-commerce operations and transition to a direct-to-consumer model.

Online purchases, website visitors and social media followers are the foundation of a brand’s first-party data. These behaviors provide a straightforward understanding of best-fit customers and help brands nurture customer loyalty, boost retention, and upsell.

For any brand that doesn’t currently collect first-party data in these places, it’s pretty easy to start. Brands can add a pixel to their website, product, or social media profiles to track actions and record it in a customer relationship management (CRM) or customer data platform (CDP).

QR Codes Create Digital Touchpoints for In-Store Shoppers

Storefronts aren’t going away any time soon, and CG brands still need a way to engage with shoppers who only interact with their products on a shelf.

Once a brand has an established roadmap for collecting first-party data online, QR codes can fill in the gaps of in-store customer behaviors. QR codes work the same way as the traditional methods of first-party data collection — they simply introduce a digital interaction to an otherwise offline space.

QR codes aren’t the only way to collect first-party data in brick-and-mortar environments. Social media activations, pop-ups, and native apps can also provide direct connections between CG brands and customers, but each requires a significant amount of effort both from the brand and from shoppers to successfully engage. By contrast, QR codes help create a rich customer profile with little lift from the person scanning the code and from marketers.

And consumers are already starting to embrace them. QR codes gained steam in hospitality throughout the pandemic as many restaurant diners grew accustomed to scanning a QR code to access the menu and place a contactless order. In a retail setting, the same behaviors apply: In-store shoppers can scan a product’s QR code to learn more about the product, activate a 3D or AR marketing experience, and visit a website landing page with specific product information.

QR codes enable brands to engage in-store shoppers at pre-purchase and compel them to interact digitally, thus creating a digital footprint. Even if that customer ultimately decides not to purchase in that moment, marketers can leverage their data in a cart-abandonment campaign.

Create a Data Strategy that Supports Your Customer Experience

QR codes aren’t only beneficial to brands for first-party data collection in stores. They also invite consumers to meaningfully interact with CG brands.

Today’s consumers are deeply discerning about the products they buy. Sustainability is increasingly a deciding factor in many consumers’ purchases, and the only way to assess whether a brand is truly sustainable is to do a bit of research and look into their supply chain and ingredients sourcing, for instance.

It would be difficult to tell a customer all about a brand’s sustainability initiatives on the packaging alone. That’s where QR codes come in: If a customer wants to learn more, they can scan and read more about the brand’s sustainability practices on their website, which leads them to get to know the brand even better.

QR codes are information portals for any consumer who wants to know more about a product before they buy it. They might be a health-conscious shopper who wants to learn about a product’s ingredients, or they might be a new homeowner who wants to take some time browsing before they invest in the right refrigerator.

With the help of QR codes, as CG brands guide consumers through the education phase of their buying process, they collect valuable first-party data all the while.

Build an Online-Offline Continuum of First-Party Data with QR Codes

The pandemic has only accelerated the internet’s expansion as the center of the retail universe. That’s good for first-party data collection, which will continue to be a winning strategy for brands that want to grow their customer base online. Just look at Amazon.

But CG brands shouldn’t wait until Google finally eliminates third-party cookies in 2022 to start investing in first-party data.

On top of a baseline first-party dataset from online behaviors, brands can round out their customer insights with QR codes to learn everything they need to know about their in-store customers. And it’s a win-win: Customers can learn everything they need to know about brands’ products, too.


Ravi Pratap Maddimsetty is cofounder and CTO of MobStac, the creator of the mobile marketing platform Beaconstac, which companies and brands use to attract, engage and retain customers across the physical and digital worlds.