Kraft Trials Pit NFC Against QR. NFC Wins, But At A Price

Kraft Foods, the $19 billion consumer goods company, has been trying to understand the relative consumer-reach powers of NFC and QR codes to see if either is going to resonate more with mobile shoppers. Its answer: Run shelf tests at five San Francisco-area grocery stories showing both NFC and QR to consumers and see what happens.

As the owner of brands Kraft, Maxwell House, Oscar Mayer, Nabisco, Planters and JELL-O discovered, NFC was the winner. NFC's engagement level was a dozen times greater than QR codes, and engagement time was 48 seconds for NFC compared with 5–10 seconds for QR. But NFC excludes many older phones and—crucially—all Apple iPhones and iPads. For many reasons, that's a dangerous segment to ignore.

The signage for the shelf tests offered users a choice of NFC—which it labeled Tap—and QR codes—which it labeled (for rhyming, as there seems little other reason) Snap. One key problem with interpreting the data from the trials—which was run for Kraft by mobile vendor Thinaire—is that Kraft has ordered the actual figures behind them kept confidential.

For example, it would be very useful to know how many shoppers passed by the display and took no action. Of those who did interact with the displays, which method did they use? And what were the makes of the phones with which they engaged in these interactions? All information that the trials would have collected.

"I'm not allowed to tell you the raw numbers," said Tim Daly, a Thinaire co-founder.

Without those details, it's hard to know precisely what these numbers mean. That said, there's a good chance that phones equipped with NFC would have been used for the faster and much easier (no app launch needed) NFC. If true, that would mean older phones might have been accessing the QR versions. And it raises the question: Was it QR that held shoppers' attention for less time or was it the fact that the phones might have been slower with smaller screens?

In general, other trials have found that Apple users tend to be more engaged, meaning they are more willing to experiment with mobile functionality. A recent Peapod grocery trial, for example, found that even though the trial supported the more numerous Android phones, as well as iPhones, literally 90 percent of the participants used iPhones.

There are also indications that Apple users tend to be more affluent and spend more—two very different attributes—which makes Apple customers the last ones a retailer wants to leave out of promotions.

Another factor: Kraft chose to run these trials in the San Francisco area, which the Wednesday (Oct. 17) news release announcing the trials characterized as "a region known to have a higher concentration of NFC-enabled smartphone users." In other words, these results may not be applicable to other areas.

Daly said the trials' purpose was not mostly numeric. "The goal was not mostly to gauge the sheer number of interactions," he said. "We needed to know: Do people care about downloading?"

The demos—featuring Kraft cheese and Nabisco Cookie brands—offered shoppers recipes, the ability to download Kraft's i-Food Assistant app, to comment on the products and to share with others.