Best practices for QR codes in real estate | Inman News

 I just couldn’t resist it any longer. Every time I go to a conference or open my Twitter stream someone is talking about them. You know what I’m talking about: QR codes. Sometimes the conversations about them get really involved.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, QR codes (QR stands for “quick response”) are those square “bar-codey” things you see popping up on business cards, signs and other printed real estate materials. These things were designed for use in warehouses and look like it, too.

When you run into someone who has just blown a wad of cash implementing some sort of QR code solution, he or she usually starts with something like, “These are really big in Japan.”

Here’s the basic breakdown of how QR codes work in a typical real estate setting:

  • Real estate professional pays someone for a bunch of QR codes to print on printed stuff like business cards or signs.
  • A customer sees the QR code — in the real world, away from their laptop — and scans it.
  • A Web page opens on the customer’s phone.

Please note that the following must be true for the customer to scan and interpret a QR code:

  • Customer possesses a Web-enabled phone.
  • Phone has a camera.
  • Phone is capable of running apps.
  • Customer has downloaded a QR code-reading app to the phone.
  • Customer knows that there’s a QR code on the printed stuff.
  • Lighting is such that scanning the QR code is possible (example: if the code is on a sign this is all happening during bright daylight hours).

You can see some of the issues here. But my problem with QR technology really doesn’t have that much to do with the sliver of the homebuying public who can readily make use of it.

It’s in the missed opportunity.

Opportunity No. 1: Own the platform

Among the bottlenecks in creating a QR-enabled customer is getting the customer to download and use a QR reader — the software that is essential to make the camera and phone turn into a QR code interpreter.

There are something like 200 different apps for the iPhone that let you read QR codes. Which is the best one? How does the customer decide what to get? All the time spent thinking about this is time not spent thinking about finding a house.

The opportunity in QR codes isn’t in putting the bar codes on all printed matter. The opportunity in QR codes is in owning the QR reader software.

What if there was a real estate-specific QR app? This could be as simple as rebranding one of the existing QR apps to be about real estate and then marketing it as such. Then, whenever real estate consumers see a QR code on a sign — anyone’s sign — they may choose to use your real estate QR app.

If you really want to own the platform though, you’ll have to get more involved than simply rebranding an existing QR app.

Opportunity No. 2: Own the interaction

Current usage of QR codes is mostly limited to opening Web pages. They’re just a fancy way of opening a Web page that places a lot of criteria on the customer.

But QR technology isn’t limited to opening Web pages. All the tech does is turn a physical image — the “bar-codey thing” — into some numbers and letters. Those numbers and letters could be anything.

If you own the platform, the QR code reader could be used to alert you to which specific customers were looking at which specific QR code. Here are some ways to own the interaction once a customer scanned a QR code into your own QR platform:

  • Save the property to a profile (that can be shared with an agent).
  • Display a list of similar properties (show me houses like the one just scanned).
  • Connect directly to customer relationship management software for tracking and response.
  • Initiate a showing and add it to a calendar.

By hooking a QR reader app directly into your customer relationship system or your website profile, you can deepen the level of service you provide to customers. This goes beyond opening a Web page for the consumer to bookmark or email to themselves or forget.

Opportunity No. 3: Own the narrative

Once you’ve got a handle on creating a more meaningful experience than showing a Web page, you could go deeper still. The series of locations that customers scan in will tell you something about their interests in terms of property or price or neighborhood or whatever.

You can use this data to create a path for the visitor’s next on-the-street outing to look at property. You could partner with neighborhood businesses to get their establishments into your neighborhood QR reader software. You could use QR codes to personalize the narrative of location for your customers.

QR technology is definitely in its infancy. Whether it gets off the ground or not, who knows.

But if the primary benefit of going through the steep technology and conceptual requirements is simply a Web page — even if it’s a Web page with … (wait for it to download, please) … video — then who cares?

It’s an additional tool for a listing presentation, at least, I suppose.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.

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