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Marketing Study Shocker: QR Codes & Social Media Have Little Impact for Shoppers

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“As much as people embrace all things digital, they’re much fussier when they turn into actual shoppers. In fact, QR codes and social media have very little impact, according to new research from Catapult Action-Biased Marketing, a Westport Connecticut-based researcher.” Those are the opening lines of a recent Media Post Marketing Daily article, “Shoppers Spurn Social, QR Codes.”

Wow. So let’s dig deeper. According to Catapult Marketing’s Brian Cohen, digital shopper marketing director, “We looked at 1,200 consumers, and the role that social media is playing is not as large as we thought it would be. It’s a good consumer and advocacy tool, and it builds brand awareness.” But he went on to say that when the consumer’s mind turns to actual shopping, they aren’t tuning into social media. Rather, they are checking out company websites, Internet ratings, and review sites. Especially for big ticket purchases. Well, I think that makes sense.

As for QR codes, Cohen cites the rapid adoption of new technologies by marketers without full consideration of the customer. He points out that many consumers who don’t own iPhones see smart codes and that translates to: “You can’t play” to them. He also states there’s a “fatigue” among iPhone users where QR codes are concerned; interaction with them is down 20%. Besides fatigue, QR codes aren’t always delivering interesting or useful material.

The study revealed two consumer mindsets when engaging with QR codes:

  • Will it save me time?

  • Will it save me money?

Did the research only paint a less-than-rosy picture of digital media? No. If marketers use it intelligently to share tips, ideas, engaging videos, and worthwhile content, it does help build brand awareness.

Research studies like these have value because they reveal important data at specific points in time. Marketers love to adopt new technology but they need to understand how consumers are engaging with it,what works, and what doesn’t. They also need to know whether they’re optimizing each digital tool effectively.

That constitutes value to consumers over and above their need to save time and save money, obviously. But it’s only part of the marketing picture; other tools are necessary to drive actual purchase decisions.

  • What’s your take on this research? Does it corroborate your own analysis of the effectiveness of social media and QR codes?

  • Do you think the results of this study point to a need for marketers to rethink their social media strategies?

  • Do marketers sometimes jump on new technologies too soon without understanding their implications? Or how best to use them?

  • Are we simply bombarding the consumer to the point of fatigue with all of this? Should we use less but better targeted social media?

I’d love to hear from all of you social media mavens out there on this one!

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Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc. (, a leading brand-design consultancy to consumer product companies (phone: 856-810-2277). Ted is also a regular contributor to the MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix.

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  • by Paul Barsch Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Interesting post Ted. I'd have to agree on shopping behaviors, especially in terms of bigger ticket items. While I may ask a few friends on Facebook about whether they've had experiences with a certain brand (small sample size), I'm going to review sites next (Amazon, epinions or the like) to examine the wisdom of the crowds where I'm looking for large sample sizes of feedback.

  • by Lana Rice Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Great article and proof yet again of "be wary of shiny objects". All the technology in the world can put any kind of spin they want, but it all goes back to the basics that never change for consumers want vs need and the answer to your four questions is a resounding "YES"

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Hi Paul,
    Looks like your own shopping behavior and decision making corroborates the findings in the study. It makes sense in my opinion. I'm sure most consumers solicit as much feedback as they can, especially before making big ticket purchases. It's so easy to find epinions from informed sources besides. I think it's also important for marketers to better understand how the current purchasing process is working and the role of social media and QR codes as part of that process. Thanks for sharing your insights, Paul. I appreciate it.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Hi Lana,

    Lots of shiny new technologies just begging to be used by marketers! I understand what you're saying. It's important for marketers to step back and look at studies like these to find out how consumers are actually interacting with all of these platforms. . .how they're influencing them along the path to purchase, isn't it? Then informed decisions can be made about which technologies to use as marketing tools and which ones to use more effectively. Otherwise, what's the point of expending time and financial resources on them? Thanks, Lana, for weighing in. And thanks for saying "yes" to the questions I posed. Agreed.

  • by Peter Fieger Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Interesting that the conversation is about big ticket items.... I have always looked at quick access to information as being important when then consumer is looking at a variety of options on a smaller purchase. A few examples - specials at the coffee shop (or wine bar), restaurant and packaged food recipes wrt allergies and intolerances, link to a page that offers tickets for a concert or event...

    Social media - great for branding and to reinforce credibility, but sell product through your own properties.... bricks and clicks is still (in my view) the winner!

  • by Michael Moriarity Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Are reviews, blogs and customer feedback not social media? Marketers should be engaged with their customers where they are active. Social media-specific websites are great for many reasons, including brand awareness, outreach and spawning conversations. However, the site that carries your actual products is sometimes better. Engage with your customers at the source (if allowed - may want to seek permission and sell benefits to retailer/distributor first), where the conversations are happening.

  • by Michelle Moore Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    I think there are some other issues with this... one of those has to do with defining what social media is. Reviews and photos posted on Amazon, comments left in Yelp, observations posted on Urbanspoon - these ALSO are social media. It's social interaction in the form of customer feedback. Monitoring, addressing, and encouraging consumers to use those outlets should be a rather large part of any social media plan, but it has almost nothing to do with the sort of "marketing" that business owners seem to think they're entitled to across social platforms in general.

    And I think the other problem happened when some fool tacked "marketing" onto the end of a sentence that ended with "social media." People are not all that social when bombarded with ad messages. There's plenty of statistical proof that consumers want very few things from a business social media presence - discounts, inside information, and exclusive benefits. If that's what social media actually provides, consumers are more likely to refer to that (ahem) resource when they start seriously shopping...

  • by Kenton Glick Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Good insight. Sometimes we marketers rush to embrace the newest toys without having a level-headed look at the real ROI of our activity.

  • by Sev Ritchie Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    As always, a good article. However, you need to consider that social media, like other forms of marketing, needs a compelling call to action to be effective.

    We can still be social, but we cannot forget to ask for the sale. I agree providing brand building content is a great tool, however you also have to remind folks that you are a merchant, or you are a brand that should be purchased.

    Let's not be afraid to politely ask for the sale.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    You're right, Peter. People want information and feedback about lots of things, not only big ticket items they're interested in purchasing. I like your last line a lot. Well articulated. Thanks for your excellent input!

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Hi Michael,
    Good point about the social nature of reviews, blogs and customer feedback. When I said "social media" as the first point of contact with consumers in many cases but not the ultimate decider before purchasing, I was referring to company-generated sites and QR. That suggests that the role of social media platforms in the decision-making process is either overstated or misunderstood? What do you think?

    It's important to monitor customer conversations to glean insights, wherever they come from: agreed. Thanks for adding substance to my post, Michael. Good stuff.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Hi Michelle,

    You've articulated many good points here and I thank you. As I said to Michael, social media in the context I'm discussing it in my post concerns companies' own use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even QR codes to promote their products. Social media, in my opinion, can be used for marketing if used wisely and well. Do consumers want them used to bombard them with an endless stream of shrill ads similar to what they're already tuning out in the way of traditional marketing? I don't think they do. Nor do I think they're turned on by banal, useless information that merely offers a little entertainment value. . .So maybe there's a lot of brand marketers out there who need to rethink their "social media marketing strategies"?

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Right, Kenton. Question is: how good is the ROI approach and data on all of these new technologies marketers are using? Thanks for your cogent observation.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Hi Sev,

    Thanks for the kind words and for adding to my post. I appreciate it. Just one thing I'd like to ask: are social media platforms the right place to ask for the sale? Given their nature, I'm not sure that works. The idea of using them to build brand awareness and buzz seems to be the best role for them? Just asking. . .As far as a "call to action" is concerned, if social media is well planned and implemented, doesn't the motivation it gives consumers to go further down the path to purchase infer that's being done? I'd love to get your take on this.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Giant. Marketers all need to step back, become aware of the latest consumer data and act on it. Sometimes we're so involved in what we do we're not stepping back to look at the big picture. Before jumping on the latest and greatest, we really need to assess whether it makes sense for our brands. Then we need to assess what we're already doing: is it working or not? What can we do to strengthen our mix of marketing tools, rather than spraying our shots?

  • by Chris Taylor Tue Jan 24, 2012 via blog

    As a shopper and a business process professional, I think that the segment of the market that uses social media for shopping may be small right now, but is growing as more people adopt smart phones and become familiar with where to find product reviews, competitive pricing, etc. We use social media extensively to ask friends about products (mostly facebook), find out about trends (mostly twitter), and read reviews (places like REI) when standing in the brick and mortar store or at the online store. There is always skepticism when new ways of doing business start out, and then the wave comes.

    QR jury is still out.

  • by Ted Mininni Wed Jan 25, 2012 via blog

    Hi Chris,

    You've made some good points. Many companies are still new at using social media platforms and QR codes. Consumers are increasingly engaging in social media to get information, feedback, reviews, compare pricing, etc. The wave is already happening. Now the question is: how to harness its power in more effective ways? Thanks for weighing in, Chris. I appreciate your comments.

  • by Ted Mininni Wed Jan 25, 2012 via blog

    Daily Fix readers,

    An interesting article that corroborates my post? Check out this piece from today's Marketing Profs newsletter: " Websites trump social media for finding holiday deals".

  • by Heather Cuthill Thu Jan 26, 2012 via blog

    I'd have to answer all 4 of your questions with "Yes", especially with respect to question #4. Based on my own experiences as a consumer, I try to be careful about overwhelming our followers with ads. Who wants their Twitter stream interrupted by a flood of commercials for someone else's products and services? Social media marketing needs to be timely, thoughtful and above all - useful. It's still a new field, and we're all still learning how to use it effectively. The last thing we want to do is cause marketing burnout in our audience. I'm not surprised that most consumers still turn to consumer review and rating sites for big purchases - I do it myself, probably because I still assign a higher level of trust to those sites than I do to the Twitterverse.

  • by Brian Cohen Thu Jan 26, 2012 via blog


    Many thanks for the references in your article, and for interpreting the key points of our learnings so well.

    This is an interesting time for us as marketers as new and exciting technology solutions enter the market place every day. It is our responsibility to understand the differences between "Bright and Shiny" vs. those that deliver true utility. I suspect this conversation will continue to evolve over the next few years, as today technology has simply not caught up with shopper needs. This will change... it has to... as digital becomes increasingly critical along the path to purchase.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

    Best Regards,

  • by Ted Mininni Thu Jan 26, 2012 via blog

    Hi Heather,
    Thank you for weighing in on my post with well-articulated insights. Agreed: consumers are likely suffering burnout from the constant deluge of advertising in both the traditional and virtual space. Love this line: "Social media marketing needs to be timely, thoughtful and above all - useful". Very well put. Doing that would likely result in far less push-back from consumers, right?

  • by Ted Mininni Fri Jan 27, 2012 via blog

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the kind words and for the encouragement! Loved your comments. There are plenty of challenges due to fast-changing consumers and new technologies. Which platforms to use for marketing purposes? How to use them? How to measure their effectiveness? What I like about studies like this is that it gives us a snapshot in time. They make us stop and reconsider what we're doing and how we're doing it. Shoppers have been changing dramatically and you're right: we have yet to fully catch up to them as effectively as we might.

  • by Brian Cohen Mon Jan 30, 2012 via blog

    Well said Ted. It's what makes our business so challenging and exciting all at the same time!

  • by Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR Mon Jan 30, 2012 via blog

    While I've been an advocate for QR codes in marketing, I now need to take my professional hat off and put on my consumer hat. As a consumer, I've been very disappointed in the use of QR codes. When I have scanned them while shopping (and I'm scanning codes from huge brands), often the links are broken or the promotion isn't valid leaving me frustrated and disappointed. Like with everything it needs to be well-thoughtout which includes what happens when it is over if it is a promotion. The technology is there to manage the codes effectively. When a program done right can be good for business.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Jan 30, 2012 via blog

    Hi Ann Marie,
    You've raised an important issue; thank you. If QR codes aren't working in the first place, it's probably even worse than using them poorly. How right you are: outdated information is inexcusable. If there isn't a strategy in place to employ QR codes, it seems to me it's better for companies to not get involved in the first place. It's likely a better idea to put the marketing funds into other initiatives that can be managed properly. Right?

  • by Jay Mon Jan 30, 2012 via blog

    There's a need for speed, but money is funny. You have to know how to "enter the conversation going on in their minds" if you want to influence them so they buy from you.
    QR codes create an expectation that's seldom met so (1) they don't deliver and (2) there is definitely fatigue.

    Regarding money, we're wired to think we want to be thrifty, yet we'll pay more at Whole Foods even though we know we could pay much less down the street. We'll buy a glass of wine in a nice restaurant for $12 (I'm in New York) even though we know we might be able to get a whole bottle for the same amount. Our decisions -- certainly a good portion of them -- are driven by illusions (branding, for example; peer pressure, another example).
    Like an iceberg decision making is 7/8 in the subconscious where the mind fiddles around, weighs and processes our decisions. A Louis-Vuiton bag is made of canvas impregnated with plastic. Paying $495 for it really is illogical.

    We are behavioral maketers focused on personality types. People seek and are drawn to people like themselves. You want to know their personality types to win their hearts and minds. And since each type decides from different data we have to serve them precisely what they like best. Two type love social media. Another type can skip it and just wants facts. Still another is strictly bottom line. So tune your coomunications to deliver to each prospect and customer precisely what THEY want most. Ad impressions are momentary. When they feel great about you you will own their decision when they are ready to make it.

  • by Jon Ziegler Tue Jan 31, 2012 via blog

    I am a Senior at UW-Madison so I do not have the business experience some people have, but this is my take on on the issue.

    I agree with many comments here, QR codes are a really cool technology however I think that many companies are simply jumping on the bandwagon and putting QR codes out without really knowing how to use them effectively. I too, often go to other non-social media sites to look at product reviews for large scale purchases. However, I feel that social media influences these reviews more than people think. Many of the negative reviews boil down to bad customer service interactions. Companies with strong social media presence (should) have great customer service. In my opinion even if the product is bad having good customer service will help boost your score on review sites for the better, thus helping your sales.

  • by Ted Mininni Wed Feb 1, 2012 via blog

    Hi Jon,
    Everybody's insights are important to me, regardless of the level of experience. You've said some important things here. Customer experiences good and bad are a factor in the making of product purchase decisions. Positive customer experiences go a long way to building brands. However, poor product quality cannot overcome strong customer service. Nor can excellent use of social media platforms. In the long run, a commitment to providing excellent quality product-wise and experience wise are both needed to build brands for the long haul. Thanks for weighing in, Jon.

  • by Suleman Abdullahi Mon Feb 6, 2012 via blog

    I think marketers should always first understand the buying process for their products or services and try to uncover the real underlying reasons consumers do what they do, not the technology they use.

    They should then position themselves as out to help consumers meet those underlying needs. That will help them to gain trust and to be pulled for considered when the consumer is in shopping mode.

    They should also ensure that they are visible in relevant places where consumers will likely use to conduct research to reinforce choices and decisions. It means being visible in search engines for relevant keywords, review and rating sites and also providing review and rating capabilities on their site if relevant.

    Good post, totally enjoyed reading it and even inspire me to write one at

    You might find it interesting also.

  • by Ted Mininni Mon Feb 6, 2012 via blog

    Hi Suleman,
    Thank you for the kind words and for your thoughtful insights, as well. I appreciate your input. You're right, of course. The consumer buying process has to be understood by marketers. The problem is: that process is changing. The manner in which consumers are searching for information isn't the same as it used to be, even recently. Marketers need to understand the role their web sites currently play in the process, as well as social media. Then they can make them relevant and useful. Brands that are honest, transparent and quality oriented in products and in service will gain consumer trust. And positive buzz. Being forthcoming about problems and issues, as well as resolving them quickly matters. There isn't any place to hide. Everything is quickly outed. Companies need to proceed knowing all of this. BTW: I'll check that post out! Glad to be able to inspire more thoughts on this topic, Suleman.

  • by Suleman Abdullahi Mon Feb 6, 2012 via blog

    Quite agree with everything you said. And as per the buying process, I should have stated current buying process (which signify it changes) rather than just buying process (which might sound fixed).

    In line with what you said, I think marketers should always be spending more on understanding their digital customers better so as formulate more effective strategies to win online. Multi-channel integration should also be an important agenda.

  • by Ted Mininni Tue Feb 7, 2012 via blog

    There's no doubt, Suleman, that consumers have increasingly flocked to the Internet to get product information, feedback and advice from their social media friends as well as to make purchases. Agreed: it's time for companies to "formulate more effective strategies to win online". Well put. And yes: "multi-channel integration should be an important agenda". Too many marketing programs don't seem to be integrating traditional and digital channels cohesively. BTW: nice blog post, Suleman. Keep up the good work.

  • by Suleman Abdullahi Tue Feb 7, 2012 via blog

    Thank you Ted.

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