A Ray Of Hope For Mobile Barcode Scan ROI With Grocer's 100-Plus Location Expansion

Mobile barcode experiments have been all the rage these last few months. Burger King tried QR for payment. Target used QR for unlimited in-store inventory on hot holiday toys. Home Depot and Macy's both toyed with CRM-adapting QR codes to show different people different information. And there are lots of bizarrely frivolous QR trials, too.

But will having shoppers scan barcodes—as a way to extend in-store to anyplace customers linger—prove to be a passing fad, or will it be long-term? For those hoping these shopper scans offer serious business returns, a glimmer of hope has come out of a grocery trial.

Back in May, we told you about a train-station grocery trial by online grocer Peapod, which was itself a direct steal from a Tesco QR code subway trial in South Korea. The Peapod effort started at 16 stations in the Chicago and Philadelphia metro areas.

Here's the unexpected part: On Monday (Oct. 1), Peapod expanded the trial to more than 100 locations. The expansion—adding Boston, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., commuter rail stations to the test—is impressive in its scope.

Although Peapod has not released any stats from its initial trial, it's not hard to conclude that for someone to have approved a move to more than 100 locations, those codes had to be resonating with a lot of mobile shoppers. We wouldn't want to base a business plan on this expansion, but it's one of the first signs that these codes actually work in scale and can deliver sales. Say what you will, but that's more than any of the mobile wallets have yet done.

Trial expansion does not, in and of itself, necessarily indicate even limited success; it really depends on who is doing—and, more importantly, deciding—the expansion. Google Wallet initially expanded, but it was Google doing the expansion and paying for retailers to participate. PayPal's wallet did the same, with the same vendor-fueled funding. (ISIS couldn't even deliver its much-promised summer trial, so let's not even go there.)

But Peapod is a retailer, a grocer of the virtual kind. Its decision to expand was based—one would hope—on having solid ROI in the field. Peapod could have expanded to another 10 or 20 locations for further tests. It's fair to take notice of Peapod's decision to expand to more than 100 locations and conclude that somebody must have seen some fairly impressive figures. (Either that or the grocer has gone dot-com crazy. Uh-oh.)