Scan Me! QR codes–the Connection between Offline and Online Worlds

Quick Response codes (QR codes) are going mainstream and creating quite the buzz.  Similar to a barcode—QR codes are used by businesses to track inventory and price products at the point of sale; however, unlike one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes are two-dimensional and have the ability to hold more information, making them increasingly popular for retailers.

Home Depot and QR CodesA few weeks ago, I received a direct mail piece from Home Depot featuring a QR code. I immediately noticed it, whipped out my Blackberry and scanned away. I was directed to Home Depot’s mobile site, giving me access to product ratings, reviews, how-to guides and product-specific videos. The entire process was convenient, quick, and simply cool.  According to Tom Sweeney, Senior Director of Online Strategy at HomeDepot.com, “The main objective…is to further enhance the customer shopping experience by offering additional product and project know-how and increase customer conversion.”

A recent study called “The Naked Facts: Whiplash Edition” by Mobio Identity Systems, an international mobile payment and marketing company, shows an unbelievable 4549% increase in QR barcode scanning across the continent for the first 3 months of 2011. In terms of the type of media scanned, social media accounts for 70% of scans, TV 22%, offline four percent, online three percent, and print one percent. The report also highlights that Generation X and females continue to dominate the scanning world. And while some skeptics may think that consumers are just trying the QR code technology—the report points out that repeat scanners account for 62% of the market.

QR Code - Image from DaylifeQR codes also have the ability to become a powerful new method to reach target audiences with your public relations messaging and enhance communication strategies by offering more benefits. When executed correctly, consumers can see a QR code, scan it, and become instantly engaged in a brand’s message. Not only are QR codes a great way to understand the mobile audience, but they can be used in print media to connect a customer or prospect to additional content while offering a more interactive experience. It is apparent that this technology can be extremely powerful and an effective way to integrate media (print, web, multimedia) inside and outside a store for both consumers and businesses alike.

eBayOne company I came across that is taking QR scanning to the next level is the world’s leading e-commerce company, eBay.  In December 2010, eBay announced the integration of Milo— a localized shopping search engine that catalogs and categorizes real-time inventory at more than 50,000 stores– into its free barcode scanning app RedLaser. According to Steve Yankovich, Vice President of Mobile at eBay, Milo - Local Shopping“By including Milo shopping results in the RedLaser iPhone and Android apps, we are providing access to real-time, accurate local inventory and the power of offline and online comparison-pricing. This provides our RedLaser users even more choice and flexibility when they come to us first to comparison shop.”

This integration proves eBay’s e-commerce prowess is unshakeable—as it has resulted in new opportunities for eBay to connect with buyers and sellers globally while creating a bridge between traditional and online retail.  With over 9 million downloads, RedLaser has about 4,000 QR code scans per day. And this past month, RedLaser updated its app so that users can now create their own QR codes generated from contacts, URLs, or text.

Like most customers looking to save money and time, I am excited about the integration of Milo into RedLaser, and QR scanning. I like being in control of my shopping experience. It’s as if eBay, Milo, and RedLaser were all thinking about me when they integrated this app. While searching for a specific product, the results let me choose the best retailer for me based on price and location. I like that.

What do you think – are QR codes here to stay? Or are they overhyped marketing? When is the last time you scanned a QR code and what was was your experience like? If you haven’t tried them yet, why not? And if you’re a marketer, are you using them yet in your outreach strategies?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

3 Great Tools for Managing Information Overload and the Forgetful Mind

You are not alone.

It’s no secret that the daily ins and outs of being a web-worker are filled with steady streams of inbound information. Tweets, emails, instant messages, RSS feeds and your Facebook news stream are just some of the sources of links to all sorts of great blog posts and news articles that beg for your attention.

Saving it for later.

How many times have you clicked on a link to find an article that you’d love to read, but just don’t have the time to get to it right then and there? Instead, you leave the browser tab open with the intention of getting to it during lunch or later in the day. Sure, it’s convenient to have all those open tabs at the ready for when you have a free moment – but the tax for that type of convenience is an increasingly sluggish desktop and a “fun” romp through your browser’s history to find all those pages again after it decides to crash.

I’m also shocked at the number of web-workers who still use their web browser’s built-in bookmarking tool to save links for future reference. This method certainly provides easy access to the information while at that specific machine, but requires extra steps or plugins to sync the bookmarks to other machines. There’s also the unexpected machine meltdown that could take years worth of non-backed up bookmarks away to the great beyond.

And the password is…

Along with all the information and great links we like to save for future reference comes the need to create new user accounts on the numerous web-based applications that launch each year (or month!). Unfortunately, the majority of web-workers out there still lean towards using the same password across all their user accounts. While easy to remember, using a single password out in the wild is a recipe for disaster if one of those sites happens to have a security breach.

Imagine the task of trying to remember all the websites you’ve registered with over the past few years and changing their passwords to protect your personal information and identity. Oh, and while we’re at it, writing your passwords on post-it notes and placing them under your keyboard or mouse pad is not a recommended method of remembering them either. Come on, you know you’ve done that before.

Relief at last..

Fortunately, there are a number of great options for saving information for both short term consumption and long term reference. Being able to access stored nuggets of information from multiple platforms and devices is always near the top of my list when looking for software solutions to make my information processing easier to manage. And of course, finding apps that are free doesn’t hurt either!

Here are three of my favorite applications for keeping up with my daily flow of information and helping me remember things when I’m in the thick of it:

Instapaper

Instapaper

Instapaper has become an essential tool in my daily information processing workflow. It’s the perfect application for those who are constantly finding new online articles to read but don’t have the time to read them right then and there. With a simple click of a bookmarklet button, the text of the page your browser is on is sent to your Instapaper account for later consumption.

All your saved articles are then easily accessible from the Instapaper website or the official Instapaper iPhone or iPad app. Android users can currently access their accounts via a compatible web browser as well.

There are several additional options for saving information to your account, depending on where you are discovering the content you’d like to save. Each Instapaper account comes with a unique email address that can be used to forward links and email newsletters for future reading. Instapaper’s popularity has also caught the attention of many iPhone and iPad application developers and has resulted in over 130 apps that support sending pages directly to your account.

Instapaper accounts are free (ad-supported) to create and try and will support up to 10 saved articles. The Pro upgrade is just $4.99, allows up to 500 articles and offers a wide variety of other features, including iPad support.

This app definitely excels at “deferred reading” but is not a solution for long-term information storage. My next pick will fit your needs If you’re looking for something geared towards building a library of information to continually reference.

Evernote

Evernote

I was a huge fan of Microsoft’s Onenote prior to switching to the Mac. Its ability to act as a “digital notebook” to store text, images and webclips into definable sections made it an essential tool for creating a growing knowledge base. Since Onenote is not available on the Mac, I explored comparable solutions like Yojimbo to fill my needs.

Then came Evernote. Just as Instapaper became essential for my short-term information saving, Evernote has become the key to my long-term saving needs. Evernote allows you to store text, a web page, a photo, audio and other media. Everything you store is indexed and made searchable. You can also place your notes into different notebooks for further organization. This introductory video shows a few examples of how it can be used.

 

As shown in the video, Evernote is accessible everywhere via syncing. It supports a huge number of platforms including Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and the Web. Best of all its free. They do have Premium and Sponsored accounts for increased storage, but the average user will probably not come close to outgrowing the limits of the free version for quite some time.

1Password

!Password

1Password from Agile Web Solutions is the perfect application for anyone who has ever forgotten a password. My guess is that includes you. It permanently eliminates the need to use the same easily-guessable, weak passwords that you have become accustomed to using, by creating string unique passwords for you that can be easily recalled from your web browser by using a single rememberable password that you define.

1Password also allows you to store other vital information such as credit card numbers that can also be recalled with your “one password” and filled into the appropriate field during checkout time when shopping online. Other items like software license and custom secure notes can be stored in 1Password as well. All information placed in its database is encrypted using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and 128-bit keys which would take “millions of years” to be decrypted using a brute force attack.

The following video will give you a good idea of how it works:

 

1Password was initially developed for the Mac however, versions are now available for the iPhone, iPad and Windows. Free 30 day trials for Mac and Windows are available, and there are a variety of licensing options to choose from to unlock it beyond that.

All three of these applications have become an essential part of my daily workflow. Do you currently use any of them? How have they changed the way you manage your daily influx of information? If any of these are new to you, then I hope you’ll give them a try. Please let us know about your experiences or recomendations via the comments!