social media how toAre you wondering how to use QR codes to enhance your marketing?

Keep reading to learn some tips for implementing 5 essential steps.

Why QR codes?

QR and other two-dimensional (2D) codes can be readily integrated into your current business marketing practices to bring your online content to a mobile audience in real time.

Here’s a cool video that gives you an intro to QR codes.

sme code

QR code to the Social Media Examiner home page.

In North America, QR and 2D codes are still a novelty. For this reason, early adopters are eagerly putting them into practice to get to market first and capitalize on the trend. As a result, some embarrassing and costly mistakes are being made.

This article will help you learn from those mistakes and develop best practices for creating a favorable user experience that serves both you and your community well.

If you need a refresher on the basics of QR, this comprehensive article will give practical information on how QR codes can grow your business.

#1: Plan your QR code campaign strategy

To create a successful QR code campaign, it is essential to understand your target audience, have clear objectives and provide useful and valuable incentives to deliver a favorable user experience.

Here are some ideas and considerations to help you get started building your strategy.

Understand Your Target Audience:

  • Does he/she need instructions about the use of QR codes?
  • Does he/she need to use a specific type of code reader?
  • Will the codes be scanned indoors or outside?

Have Clear Objectives—Here are some possibilities:

  • Grow your email list
  • Increase Likes for your Facebook page
  • Increase your blog subscribers

Provide Useful and Valuable Incentives—Here are some options:

  • Enter a contest to win
  • Deliver a discount coupon
  • Download a free eBook
  • Talk to a live agent
  • Take a virtual tour
  • Demonstrate a product or service with video
  • Download a free mp3
  • Get VIP access

Are you trying to grow your email list or get more Likes for your Facebook page? Then you should always provide an incentive, especially when using scannable codes.

As more businesses fail to deliver value with their QR code campaigns, consumers in general will become more reluctant to scan them in the future. This will make it increasingly necessary to provide clear incentives and deliver on them.

#2: Create quality codes and test them

While there are numerous 2D code formats, the two most commonly used worldwide are QR codes and Microsoft (MS) tags. Both technologies are free, so your choice of which to use will largely depend upon your audience and other market factors.


A customized MS tag for IAMS pet products.


A customized QR code by Patrick Donnelly of 2ergo for American Parkour.

The owners of the QR code technology have elected to allow anyone free use of it. This gives QR codes the advantage of being in mainstream use around the world, and that awareness is currently working to their advantage.

The MS tag technology is proprietary, which allows for complete control over the entire user experience of generating, reading and tracking the tags. MS tags are also easily customized. One can embed images or logos into the codes using Microsoft PowerPoint.

The widespread use of the QR technology has attracted lots of developers who want to cash in on the trend. However, when technologies are open like this, there is always the risk that generally accepted standards will not be followed. QR code generators and scanners are only as good as the developers creating them, so you have to do your due diligence.

What happens if your QR codes do not work? For one thing, your reputation and brand are tarnished—just as it would be if a visitor to your website discovered multiple broken links.

I recently discovered one particular situation where a small business used QR codes in print ads in an annual publication. After trying several scanners, I could not get any of the QR codes to register. The investment of thousands of dollars on those print ads that will be in the market for a year was a costly mistake for that merchant. The lesson from this is clear—test your codes.

These best practices will maximize your success with 2D codes:

  • Test your QR codes with multiple readers and devices.
  • Use link shorteners to create clean codes.
  • Avoid using colors that do not provide sufficient contrast—a potential problem with both QR codes and customized MS tags.
  • Make your codes at least 1″ x 1″—larger is better.
  • Provide a sufficient quiet zone around the code.
  • Avoid using 2D codes on highly reflective surfaces.
  • Consider where your codes will be scanned. One unfortunate application was in the New York City subway where there is not an Internet connection.
  • Use a quality QR code generator. My favorite is Kerem Erkan.
  • Use a quality scanner or reader. Two excellent choices are Qrafter and i-nigma. Qrafter is unique in that it is both a code generator and scanner in one app.

Qrafter is a multi-feature QR code generator and reader.

#3: Link your codes to mobile-friendly or mobile-optimized sites

The most common mistake marketers make with QR codes is having them resolve to a standard web page that is not mobile-friendly. Worse yet is to have a code connect to a site with Flash video, which is not supported by the iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) that account for nearly 50% of the code readers in the world.

At a minimum, the page your code connects to should be mobile-friendly. For example, one of my codes resolves to the speaking page on my WordPress blog. A couple of taps on my iPhone enlarges it to fit nicely to my screen.

Mobile-optimized is better than mobile-friendly. According to Matthew Gallizzi of NotixTech, mobile sites are websites optimized specifically for smartphones. He suggests hosting these mobile sites on a subdomain or subdirectory of your main website, thereby giving you the SEO benefit of the traffic they bring.

Here are additional considerations when building a mobile site:

  • Build your site around the desired user experience.
  • Smaller images and solid colors load more quickly.
  • Size your links and buttons to be touch-friendly.
  • Use concise copy—sentences rather than paragraphs.
  • Use “fluid width” for horizontal and vertical orientation.
  • Test, test and test again—on iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms.

This mobile-optimized site emphasizes incentives.


mobile website examples

Three unique mobile sites featuring specific optimized content and actions.

The primary benefit of 2D codes is encouraging action. This can be accomplished by connecting to multimedia content such as video that shows a product or service in action. Other logical actions include activating a phone call or social share.

Here’s a list of the most requested features for mobile-optimized sites:

  • Tap to call links.
  • Tap to email links.
  • Tap to SMS (text).
  • Google maps integration.
  • Social sharing links.
  • Links to Yelp, Flickr and other mobile-optimized sites.
  • Links to YouTube and Vimeo (both mobile-optimized).

The cost of building a mobile-optimized site is comparable to a professionally designed and built WordPress site. If you are not ready to make that investment, there are a couple of services that allow you to create mobile sites hosted on their platforms: ShareSquare and Qraffiticodes.

#4: Track your scans with code management systems

QR codes and MS tags can presently track basic data, such as number of scans, with codes generated with being just one example. However, if you use a QR code management system, you can gather even richer data.

The experts I interviewed for this article collectively agree that QR code management systems are in the early stages of their development cycle. According to Roger Smolski of, “There are new QR code management systems appearing every day, but there is not yet enough user experience of these systems for a consensus on their relative merits.”

Most of these services are free for limited used, with Delivr being one that presently offers an uncomplicated experience.


Delivr provides a variety of analytics, including scans by location and time.

According to Nick Martin of Microsoft, “MS tags have the capability to accurately determine the location of a scan and report that data in real time.” This creates a number of code management opportunities, such as delivering different content depending upon the location of the scan—directions to the store or a discount coupon for those in or near the store.

#5: Deliver value and a favorable user experience

Will QR codes gain more widespread use? When it comes to technology, or just about anything else, there will always be naysayers.

What is most relevant is that you as the marketer are the one who gives your codes value. They are just tools, and how you use the tool determines the value derived from it.

QR codes can serve a specific use for you, mostly as a lead generation tool. How are you doing your lead generation now? If you can use what is working for you now and make it better, more attractive or easier with QR codes, you are probably on the right track.

The video below shows how an ingenious use of QR codes helped a business in Korea to expand, and it all started with understanding the customers and building a QR code campaign strategy around their buying behaviors.

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  • I couldn’t agree more.  QR codes can be very effective, but only if used properly.  I suggested QR codes to a non-profit client.  They didn’t want to pay, so they decided to do it on their own.  When they brought me back in, I asked how it worked out for them.  “Great”.  Oh, I said, how many people used the QR codes? “We don’t know”.  That’s because they never linked it to a unique landing page, just sent everyone to a (non-mobile) order page on their website.  They also didn’t give people instructions on what to do with the code and this audience is older and likely didn’t know what to do.

    My dad used to preach, “Measure twice, cut once” and I think too many folks go straight to the cutting part and end up with a piece that doesn’t fit.

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  • Customers

    I don’t think QR codes will stay, the technology isn’t useful


  • TedCurtin

    I like the fun video in this article.  
    Here’s a short post on the problem with QR codes that you might be interested in – “Your QR Code is hurting your brand”
    Ted Curtin

    More brand and marketing insight at

  • Jeff, a very informative and smart post. Don’t most android (and iOS) users use the standard barcode scanner app?

  • Angela – Regrettably, many organizations still look at all forms of marketing as something you throw out there and hope some of it sticks.  I like your tool analogy – just as with QR codes, the value comes from using it well. 🙂

  • Thanks. There are so many code readers out there.  I do hear a lot of android users favoring the barcode scanner app. 

    As an iPhone user, I prefer Qrafter because it just keeps getting better – Twitter integration now in place and Facebook just around the corner.

  • Great article Jeff – this is the type of content that will hopefully result in more quality implementations being executed.  One point I would like to stress (which you touched on) is to make sure a person scanning has the right reader for the 2D code. With such a high degree of fragmentation in the QR space, users often scan a QR code with an incompatible QR Reader.

    On the same not if you use Tag there is only one reader so it will always scan successfully, but you still need to include messaging that you need the Tag Reader app to scan. Even though we’re seeing 2D codes everywhere, awareness is still low and people usually assume all 2D codes are the same.

    Nick Martin
    Online Community Manager
    Microsoft Tag

  • Hey Jeff –
    If you like the sharing features in other apps, check out the updated Tag reader for iPhone and Android. It actually saves content you scanned and allows for easy sharing to FB and Twitter. I think you’ll dig it 🙂


  • Click Whisperer

    Another thing people don’t take into account:
    Don’t make the code so small that people with bad cameras in their phone won’t be able to focus on it.
    got an iPhone 3G with a substandard camera (maybe it got damaged
    somehow) and I struggle to scan the majority of printed QR codes.

    Do a big 21×21 if you can figure out how to do it.

  • Surprisingly, I’ve seen Fortune 500s drop the ball on some of these stuff. Google had a QR code leading to a non-friendly page AND it was a super complex code (linking to a very long URL thus making it harder to scan). Starbucks also recently ran a campaign and stuck a QR code on an in-store kiosk and they weren’t measured based on location. This stuff makes me cry inside. Angela, it’s nice to see that you get it. 🙂

  • Excellent point. I did a video that illustrates this very problem.  You can find it from the link under #2 above with the anchor text “quiet zone.”  It illustrates how and why virtually every QR code in a particular magazine did not work – and you know money changed hands to run those ads!

  • Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7 all come with native QR code readers/apps. On Android, it’s Barcode Scanner. I’d be curious if Apple bundled in something with iOS 5 – but not sure at the moment (and haven’t heard anything). 😀 

  • Great article. I posted a similar one done in Slideshare a while ago Last night I found a press release about typtag which combines QR Codes and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. Suggestion seems to be that typtags will be the bridge until NFC is perfected.

  • This is a *very* valid point. The iPhone 3G camera cannot focus, which makes it difficult to scan codes smaller than 1 inch by 1 inch. Matter-of-fact, it can’t, from what I’ve heard/tested. Even then, codes that large on reflective glass or something are difficult to read too. Many people test with the latest smartphones and don’t consider that there are still some older phones out there. Great point!

  • I will check that out Nick.  That seems to be one of the more logical ways to make the most of QR codes and MS tags – getting them shared! 

    Also, that history feature is handy in that you can scan without an Internet connection (as I was doing here at 30,000 feet  ) – and then use those bookmarked codes later.

    Come to think of it, I’m surprised there were not any MS tags as magazines tend to be where they are often used.

  • Best use I’ve seen so far is the World Park event

  • Great article, Jeff – and yet, there has to be some reason to scan the QR code.  Just posting one doesn’t cut it – our lives are so busy…  Give me a reason to get out my cell phone, open up the app, and scan  your code!  What value can I expect?
    It also doesn’t help that there are so many businesses who will link a QR code to their home page.  Please create a landing page with an offer that is mobile friendly!  Otherwise, we are coming to a dead end.
    Overall, I’m not sure that QR codes will have the same adoption here in the US as they have overseas.  I suspect the next new technology will be a scanning program that automagically shows up on your phone without having to open the application.  And it will feature offers that are complimentary to other offers that we’ve reacted to.  Or purchased. Or are related to the groups and associations we belong to, or follow.  Or our friends followed. 

  • abbisiler

    I am apart of a new QR Code Generator and Tracking service called TrakQR – its so important to use dynamic (editable) tracked QR codes in your campaign.  If anyone is interested in testing out our service we would love your feedback! Here’s a special link for the Social Media Examiner readers – – we’ll invite anyone who signs up with this code.  I’m glad you guys are writing about this topic – its very important!

  • Such a good point! I think, curiosity might win in the meantime – but as we see more and more QR codes, we will need a better reason to scan them. And I totally agree on not linking to the home page. As Jeff says, *add value*!

  • Jamie – I considered incorporating NFC into this article.  Space and continuity prevailed.  NFC definitely has a future – but that’s not going to happen until all the phones get upgraded and everyone gets real comfortable with replacing their credit cards with mobile devices.  🙂

  • Jody – I agree that nothing is more disappointing than a link to a home page of a website.  It reminds me of the early days of the Internet …. O.K. I’ve found your website, now what? 🙂

    I keep a folder of all kinds of QR and 2d code apps in a folder on the home screen of my iPhone. It seems to work, but I still occasionally cannot move fast enough. 

  • All signed up – thanks!

  • Debbie Colangelo

    I beg to differ, Nick.  I publish a quarterly commercial real estate directory here in South Florida.  While the availability changes often, readers can access real-time availability data by scanning the QR Code associated with that particular building: QR Codes have given new life to print publications.  I also publish the codes up to 6 feet square for use on property signs and construction banners.

    Debbie Colangelo
    CRE-sources, Inc.

  • I have never even heard of QR codes!
    Thanks for keeping us updated on the lastest trend, I will have to investigate it a little more.

  • Alex_lee8507

    Hi Jeff 🙂
    I’m so interested in QR Code. Thankful for many your topic about QR Code 🙂 I want to share a lots of QR Code with you at moment. Again, thank you very much 😉

  • Jeff, again, a great read.

    Thanks for recommending Qrafter and my generator. Will keep you updated about the new version.


  • Tyler Coffin

    Nice post. When done the right way, QR Code marketing can be fantastic for any business. It’s a great/new way to connect with customers/clients.

    I wrote which helps businesses get started with QR Codes and learn more advanced QR Code Marketing.

    Love the post!


  • I would love it if my phone were smart enough to read a code simply from opening the camera app, rather than having to open a larger app like a code reader. I’m sure that will come one day, but not this week! 🙂

    Great post! I’m a little bit in love with QR codes and I found your tips to be very useful, user friendly and easy to implement.

    SMM for C.A. Advertising Solutions

  • Stephen_C

    Jeff, thank you for a wonderful article. I know the basics about generating and some of the methods of tracking the codes. What I don’t understand which many of my clients want is to create a branded code or designer code that is editable for tracking puposes. 

  • They’re newer to the States, but there is definitely some opportunity. 🙂

  • I hear Windows phone 7’s new update has that capability, but I have yet to play with it myself. #todo

  • Customization of MS tags can be done with MS Powerpoint – follow the link in the article – section #2.  QR code customization is another thing.  Note Patrick Donnelly of 2ergo did the code above.  It gets a little complicated so you’ll want to work with an expert.

  • i have been trying to understand the roi for QR — actually, not so much just the roi but the closed loop chronology to justify the inclusion of a QR code in a campaign. this grocery store idea shows me just how a QR code can complement a clever strategic campaign. So, I ask, is the QR code only really effective in combination with a great strategy. Methinks so.

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  • Caitlin Miller

    GREAT article! Very insightful.

    I’d love to have you talk to our CEO at BestBuzz–we actually combine all of these things, and with our patent-pending technology, we use QR codes to help brands market BEYOND the “Like” button by reaching their customers’ friends on Facebook. Let’s chat!

  • mattrsullivan

    Given that the QR code itself is free, I imagine the ROI is simply in recovering the cost of the space that the QR code occupies. In and of itself, that shouldn’t be much of an issue. So to look at it from a slightly different angle, I would expect QR codes combined with an innovative strategy to have a significantly higher ROI than those with without.

  • mattrsullivan

    Interesting…so having your biz card immediately stored into someone’s address book has no value? Delivering an interested consumer to your product/services page on a website doesn’t seem to interest you?

    Why’d you bother to put your weblink in your signature? It’s essentially the same thing…

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  • Rob Rosales

    Hey! How’s it going. Thanks for the post! Have been looking around for this info. 🙂

  • Great post. But are QRs a passing fad?

    Oh I recognize the campaign in the background of the top video with present in the background. Does this look familiar?
    And for campaigns like the subway commerce campaign visit fluffy links

  • I wonder if it’d be safe to say it’s more effective with a great strategy. eg. I think it still has some potential  in other areas eg. contests, link to video, e-mail newsletter increase, etc, but not as effective as something like the grocery store idea.

  • Very interesting. In addition to space, the time to put something together, but even then, it’s minuscule compared to other avenues (eg. radio).

  • It looks like there is still a lot of misunderstanding of the technology!

    What I am wondering: is it useful to put a QR code on your block pages, each being a link to the very page? More or less, it gives your mobile phone users a way to quickly get your posts on their phone and maybe go travel and read your post later.

    Would that make any sense to you?

    Thank you.

  • Alexis – Makes complete sense.  I think of that as QR bookmarking.  More on that and some other uses for QR codes here:

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  • Thank you for such a detailed info on QR Code. Will definitely test it. Cheers.

  • Lily Lee

    Thank you Jeff. Very detailed info on QR Code. Cheers.

  • As a Realtor in Denver, I’ve been using QR Codes to highlight features of my Listings (tankless water heaters, appliances, windows…) inside homes to answer people’s questions on the spot. Also, links for a customized I-Phone / I-Pad App, general website and survey links.

    In today’s “instant gratification” society, why not give people what they want??

    Great article, Jeff!!

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  • Awesome! How has this been going? Are people receptive to the idea? How cool!

  • Sindhu

    A very nicely written article. Thanks for sharing. Loved the video too! What a novel idea. 

  • Good point! QR code is simple and nice marketing campaign these days.

  • Fantastic article Jeff!  QR Codes are all over the UK, but all too many are being used with little or no consideration for the consumer (Complex Codes, Desktop web site links etc).  Education is obviously the key and this type of article is exactly what is needed.

    We’re also hosting what we claim to be ‘The World’s First Designer QR Code Art Gallery’ which has contributions from many of the world’s best QR Code graphic designers, including @QRArts (Patrick).  Some great artworks on display –

  • suzcomptime

    Good article but I didn’t see a button to share this on Google+. I saw where I could + it but not share it on Google+. Did I miss it?

  • Jeff, Thanks for the info. Was not aware of this medium.

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  • NickSilly

    I created @AmazonQR  and I incorporate QR codes into all of the web sites I manage because I see how QR is the wave of the future. I currently don’t have a way to track the sales coming from QR code scans, however. Something I need to work on. Great article, thanks!

  • This is a very informative article. I suggest for further information regarding QR codes . At least it’s increasing the awareness of the people regarding this matter. It should be used correctly. i hope no one would abuse this kind of tool especially in business.

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  • Hmeister

    I think QR codes have some value in specific marketing strategies that are still being sorted out by people in their respective fields. Real Estate is a good example of how they are being used well.  Other than that I think they are going to be a passing fad, already outdated by emerging technologies that will make them obsolete, voice commands being one of them, rf technology being close.   Most of what I’ve seen has been strange to the point of comical. Some examples:   Buggy Code readers,  QR Codes as an email signature,  trying to web browse on a phone screen if it contains text, Best Buy posting QR codes on a wall of tv’s so high up that no camera could read them.  If there is any marketing edge to their implementation and use and I’m not sayting there isn’t it will quickly disappear once enough marketers have adopted them.  Then what?  Any novelty will be long gone, if there really was a “that’s cool” aspect with them to begin with.   

    Consider putting them in a print magazine?  Are the publishers really that keen on putting in content that immediately distracts and drives the reader to a competitive media platform?   Wired magazines ad’s have been almost completely devoid of QR codes until recently. Makes you wonder.

    Finally, in the article which is definitely well thought out and written I didn’t see one comment regarding sales and profitability specifically, although it may be fundamental to any business discussion, but like many innovations, does it really produce money.

  • Thank you for this articles that I is very informative. Everybody knows what QR but not all has innovative in using it wisely. Though QR is very accessible in the market, it still necessary that there  someone who could let others understand the true uses of it. By this article, this would great help especially for marketing any kind of product. Thanks.    

  • This is very useful advice. The thing is that there is so much that can be done to enhance awareness about your product or service. It is advisable to make a list of all the strategies that you intend adopting and then check them off once you have implemented them. Thanks for sharing this insightful information. 

  • In the UK we launched QR cupcakes service as part of our corporate cupcake service. They are proving very popular with our clients looking to maximise on the rise of the QR Code.

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  • I’ve seen a lot of marketing use, but I think QR code can be used for personal branding too.

    As on this website where you can create your own fashion t-shirt with QR codes.

    I’ve purchased few for me and my friends and that was really amazing!

    I’ve linked my facebook page and I’ve improved my network so much and easily during parties.

    Try it and let me know your comments.

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  • Kevin

    I don’t think the Internet will stay, the technology isn’t useful.


  • Kevin

    I don’t think the Internet will stay, the technology isn’t useful.


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    is it safe to say qr codes won against MS tag by now? I’ve never seen an MS tag in the wild (europe).

  • I don’t think MS Tag is going anywhere (I doubt MS would kill it off). If anything, I think, it’s important to recognize 2 things that MS Tag doesn’t have that QR codes do:

    1. Openness
    2. Visual Consistency

    I think these two things are critical for the success of QR codes. Openness means there are *a lot* more online generators and decoders available. That means there is more outlets to create QR codes. That means they will spread faster and awareness will spread faster. Increased awareness means increased opportunity. Microsoft Tag can only be generated on Microsoft’s platform… and although that has some advantage, it doesn’t hurt in spreading awareness.

    Also, visual consistency is key. QR Codes can be modified up to 30%. MS Tags, however, can be modified beyond recognition. I’ve seen some MS Tags and had absolutely no idea what they were. Being able to recognize a code is the first step in being conditioned to doing something when you see it.

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  • Katie


  • Cody Pitchford

    Its crazy how some big marketing companies are still not understanding these basics principles.  Thank you for providing some clarity!


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  • DomYeadon

    Hey Jeff, you pop up everywhere on the Internet when I google QR Codes! Have you tried yet? Its completely free to use and you can generate and track qr codes, and they do free tracking built in. Really easy to use. Clearest reports around by far.

    For QR design inspiration look at hundreds of examples of stunning customised QR code designs from around the world at

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  • Geo Delux

    QR Codes are very popular in web, it is very simple to add QR Code to your website using i.e.

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  • Lanre Sonola

    Great article. I recently(don’t laugh) heard about how a business can benefit by incorporating QR codes in their marketing strategies via social media.
    I’d seen QR codes but didn’t know what they were. So I googled it; “QR codes social” and this article came up first. It’s not so recent but just this one article has been sooooo helpful.
    I was wondering if you could direct me to more articles on adopting QR codes for retail marketing.

    Ps: Social Media Examiner=Life-saver

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  • QR codes are great. One example of good use is Wendy’s who use it on all their in-store food packaging. To compel users to scan, every one who scans the code is entered into a daily sweepstakes to win prizes.

  • Awesome! I must have missed that. Did you scan it? How was the experience?

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  • Moses Mushi


  • Lexxs

    I don’t think mobile commerce will stay, the technology isn’t useful

  • Mobile commerce isn’t useful? This story is 3 years old and mobile commerce reached $42.1 billion in 2013. You should be running for president of Zimbabwe.

  • Lexxs

    My understanding is that millennials choose to shop using a browser instead of a mobile app. So HTML5 based e-commerce sites could be the way to go to reach them.