Digital Diary: All I Want for Christmas… Is a QR Code That Works

This series covers random chronicles of some interesting digital work I am involved with in my role as regional marketing director for two children’s brands: Toys “R” Us and Stride Rite. Real cases, trials, challenges, successes, and failures – warts and all.

The toy industry is very video-driven. Hot toys like Transformers and Gundam are often created through movie properties or TV programs. Brands like Barbie and Lego spend millions developing TVCs showing their products at play, driving a lot of sales. Customers, especially parents, sometimes need to see videos to figure out how a toy plays and whether it would be suitable for their child. Whenever we put a TV and a video next to a product in our Toys “R” Us stores, sales of that item invariably go up.

But here’s a problem. A typical Toys “R” Us store carries more than 5,000 products. How do you put a TV next to each item? Logistically and financially, it’s almost impossible. Or even outside the store, when the customer is flipping the pages of our Christmas catalogue, how do we get her to see a video of the product she is interested in, right there and then while she is browsing, and perhaps show it to her child?

We found the answer in QR codes.

Twenty of the hottest toys in the Toys “R” Us 2010 Christmas catalogue were accompanied by their own individual QR codes. Using the Toys “R” Us iPhone app, a customer had to simply unlock the code and instantly get connected to a YouTube video of that product. We also placed QR codes next to those products in our store. Now suddenly you could see the product video while flipping through a printed catalogue or while walking the store.

Those videos were also stored in the Toys “R” Us iPhone app for later viewing, perhaps together with your child. You could also get Loyalty Points, coupons, and other rewards by shaking your iPhone once you unlocked five QR codes.

And of course, you could share the videos on your Facebook page with one click.


Simple? Not quite. We discovered soon enough that QR codes are somewhat temperamental. They’re not always easy to scan from a glossy printed page or poster. You often have to fiddle around, trying to hold your phone at the right angle. Sometimes they take a long time to connect to YouTube, and as we know, no one waits for more than three seconds for anything in Hong Kong!

We kept tinkering with the size of the printed QR codes, the material of the printed page, and the functionalities of our iPhone app, and we kept testing the results with consumers. Things improved, but were never perfect. So the quest goes on.


Nevertheless, the feature proved to be very popular. More than 30,000 QR codes were unlocked over the six-week Christmas period, leading to more than 30,000 video views. We were pleased with the level of engagement this created, and are currently tracking sales of those products against others to get a measure of incremental gains.

Strategically, we used QR codes not just as a cool ‘novelty’ tool, but to address a real customer need and business challenge. By turning printed pages into video channels, we managed to enhance the user experience with videos that are a key sales driver for us.

Will we use QR codes again in the future? Absolutely. Do we know how to make them perfect? No, but we’re trying. The key, of course, lies in figuring out innovative and engaging ways to help the customer, with or without QR codes.

In the meantime, does anyone know developers and marketers that are doing really good work with QR codes? Let me know.

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