QR Codes in Fashion Retail: East versus West

QR Codes are of of the most interesting topics to discuss, as they are still not so common to be used in some of the most developed markets such as Europe or the US. Meanwhile, in the emerging countries like the ones in Asia, these 'devices' of communication are really appreciated and extremely common to be adopted amongst many businesses - as an additional tool to support their work keeping their costumers close and involved as much as possible.

Certainly, Europe and the US have a lot to learn from the Asian markets, which are really an avant-garde in subjects like infusing online communication, omni-channel development and social media interaction, with their merchandize and retailing. The Quick Response Code (or QR code) system, in fact, can bring lots of advantages under many point of views: on one hand, it helps businesses (both emerging and established ones) to get better results, as it can easily increase purchases; on the other hand, it makes people feel more involved and capable of interacting all by themselves, with the brand via it's retailing experience.

One of the reasons why in the Western countries QR Codes didn’t work as good as in the Eastern markets is because, the companies in the West used them in a way that didn’t really engage people enough. One of the biggest secrets in adopting this tool is, in fact, giving the costumers something more exciting that they can only achieve by doing an activity such as scanning the code. People need a good reason to scan otherwise they won’t waste their time. That’s what happened in all those markets where QR Codes are still unpopular: scanning leads to the broken links, or the website is not mobile-synced - hence, nothing interesting, nothing that can help fast purchasing!

There are a lot of reasons why the West should quickly adopt to this additional tool in hand, which can only accelerate its sales! Here's what benefits the brands can have if they use this technology appropriately and efficiently:


Thanks to the QR Code system, companies are able to share lots of information with as many people as they can, having the chance to reach both the actual as well as potential consumers - positively attracted by this new kind of communication. Here is an example from a Webinar done by Fashionbi on the art of successful omni-channel retailing, including focus on the usage of QR codes in the context of a potential buyer!

Ralph Lauren was one of the first fashion brands to pick up on this digital marketing trend in 2008. Ralph Lauren printed QR codes onto their hangtags, catalogs, in-store signage and billboards. Customers scanning QR codes were sent to the brand’s website, where information about available colors and sizes, as well as style tips were to be found [ref: Fashionbi insights].

Sharing info, especially the personal ones (like a brand's social media page link or its exclusive micro-site) through the QR Codes is very popular and common phenomena in many countries. In China, for example, people are so used to it that you can find a QR Code on business cards too; moreover, “WeChat” and “Sina Weibo” - the most popular social media platforms in China today, are projected to support and create QR Codes, as every account is provided with its own code, in order to be able to scan and post instantly!

By sharing information we can also mean comparing info, in particular way, prices. Some apps have been designed with the aim of letting consumers compare prices from different retailers in both the accessories and beauty fields, too. The most popular one is the Chinese Wochacha.

Regarding the last fragment, it could be a stimulating method for both the sides involved, as on one side, retailers are motivated to be more and more competitive and up-to-date, and on the other side customers have a chance to always get the best prices without moving, and just scanning the items they are interested in.


QR Code communication help retailers filling the gap between demand and offer, helping customers to purchase whatever they want, whenever they want to. How many times did you find yourselves staring at a shop window willing to buy something right away but the shop was closed at that moment? With the QR Codes on the shop window, for instance, people can do it, even if for just for a selected range of products! Following this retailing direction, UGG monobrand shop in Tokyo made an interactive window in order to let people buy the season's most requested items. 

Other such examples of 'filling the gap' and bringing consumers closer to the brand's world are: Red Valentino, the youth-oriented diffusion line of Valentino, has used QR codes to entice potential customers to avail of a 10% discount upon purchase of their products.

Diesel employed the QR code technique to strengthen their social media platforms. Customers who scanned codes found on the brand’s products in-store, were sent to Diesel’s Fan Page.

Calvin Klein took a more risky approach to the matter, deciding to print a QR code on all its billboards. Those who scanned it were sent to a daring, skin-baring video advertisement, online.

Lacoste filled their window displays with QR codes. Customers who scanned them (even when the stores were closed) were able to avail a 15% discount, as well as play certain games on their smartphones. 

 [ref: Fashionbi insights]

In these ways, a customer can have quiet an easy purchase, at times when it can't be - for example, when the shops are crowded or the shop assistant is nowhere to be found! It's just a simple yet very efficient way in not loosing your customer base, whilst as well making them happy and sticky to your labels!


As previously stated, QR Codes bring a disruptive innovation for the in-store experiences too, and can be completely re-invented. Thanks to the innovative system, people could be able to purchase just by scanning the product’s code and paying directly online via an app, or directly on the brand's mobile-synced e-store - everything can be done without any external help from a shop assistant or someone else. That’s what happens in some Chinese experimental shops where products are exposed together with their code so that costumers can buy them scanning and paying though the most popular social media in the country, WeChat.

Looking at some data regarding the QR Codes usage in China, we can easily appreciate a speeding and unstoppable growth, in the last few years. As the chart (source: KPCB Marketing Study from 2013) clearly explains, during the year 2012, 2 millions QR Codes were scanned in China in total, whereas in 2013, this number upped highly by a roaring 9 million.

It’s, in fact, a boosting strategy that the West should learn from - as a real innovative form of brand communication methodology, capable of bringing amazing outcomes. This is a way for companies to investigate a “new communication field” (at least in Europe) in order to be the first to do it and to be able to be recognized and positively appreciated by costumers. Finally, QR Codes are an easy technique to get younger costumers involved and keep them interested and always curious to discover more interesting facts regarding your brand. 

More Insights on this and other trending marketing-communication strategies, with brand case-studies, can be found in our exclusive research studies on omni-channel retailing - Part 1omni-channel retailing - Part 2