Are QR Codes the Future of Retail?

By: Kaydee Ambas · June 01, 2023 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

QR Era

Many in the apparel industry, including major companies like Ralph Lauren (RL) and Patagonia, are lobbying the FTC to allow the replacement of traditional clothing tags with QR codes.

The FTC requires a laundry list of information, such as instructions, materials, and country of origin, to be included on physical clothing tags. With a QR tag, buyers could get all that information by scanning a code instead.

For clothing retailers, using QR codes is a no-brainer. But for consumers, the technology is surprisingly controversial.

Controversial Codes

Since the onset of the pandemic, QR codes have become more common — particularly in the restaurant industry, where they’ve been widely adopted as a convenient and contact-free replacement for physical menus. But some criticize them as “dehumanizing” for giving customers another excuse to be on their phones instead of in the moment.

It will be interesting to watch how the technology is received if it becomes commonplace in the apparel industry. Proponents say QR codes could provide care instructions, ​​recycling instructions, supply chain information, sustainability practices, and more in a single 2D barcode. Plus, the codes could be updated to account for product recalls or a change in recyclability.

Insiders are embracing QR codes for the amount of information they can hold. Will consumers feel the same?

Pros & Cons

Critics argue digitization could inhibit those who don’t have a phone or consistent internet access from reading FTC-required information. For all the convenience they apparently provide, QR codes may actually be less accessible for those unwilling or unable to stay plugged in.

On the other hand, the manufacturing and environmental benefits of using a QR code over a bulky physical tag are hard to deny. They’d provide many consumers access to even more information about their garments than they currently have. Plus, plenty of people ignore or cut off itchy tags anyway.

The FTC has yet to respond. But Ralph Lauren has gone ahead and released some 220 million units with QR codes — in addition, of course, to physical tags. The early result? Any controversy may be overblown. According to executive Jason Berns, “People are absolutely willing to scan.”

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