OPINION – Are SR codes a quaint curio already?

10 Nov 2012

Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

The short history of the internet is littered with the flotsam of shipwrecked bad ideas. These curios had their day in the sun but their brief flirtation with fame was never to be as they simply didn’t provide enough value. An expensive high-street property on Second-life, anyone? And takers for WAP? Do I have a bid on Shoshkeles? Will someone take this Flash-intro off my hands, please?

We look back on these indulgences with a mixture of bewilderment and patronising pity, assuring ourselves with collective amnesia that we were never part of the madness.

Well, despite joining the party late, it seems that SR codes have taken less than a year to earn our quaint commiserations.

You will probably have seen an SR code, it is a square black and white matrix barcode which some companies use to join up the online and offline experience of their customers. SR (which stands for slow response) codes work in just 13 very simple steps:

  • The prospects or customers read an advert or piece of literature.
  • They want to find out more.
  • They ignore the easy-to-remember website address.
  • They ignore any easy-to-remember keywords or brand names which will quickly find the website on Google.
  • They get their mobile phones out of their pockets.
  • They download an SR code app.
  • They make a cup of tea while it is downloading.
  • They scan the SR code using their phones.
  • They try again as there is bad light in the room.
  • At a later date they recall the experience.
  • They get their phone back out of their pockets.
  • They open the SR code app.
  • They use the SR code to complete the online journey.

The beauty of the experience lies in its lack of speed, as the prospect or the customer is able to luxuriate in the brand experience for hours as they try to get the damn thing to work. Having gone through the ‘13-step plan’, there are some further techniques to bear in mind which provide yet further opportunity to delight the prospect or customer:

  • The SR code just takes the customer to a generic website homepage.
  • The website in question doesn’t work on a mobile device.
  • The destination of the SR code makes no account of the message on the piece of offline literature.
  • The destination of the SR code contains no content sensitive to the motivations and drivers of the customer in the first place.

In the interests of balance, one should mention the first cousin of the SR code, the QR code. Used well, he can join up the offline with the online in a creative, fun and easy way. Heinz used him on the back of its Tomato sauce bottles in the US to promote its environmental packaging, leading the user to an environmental quiz and the opportunity to win prizes. Transport for London employed him on over-ground rail services to encourage the download of its real-time mobile bus timetables. At his best he is brilliant at saving time and helping people.

So let’s continue to work hard to join up offline and online. But let’s be sure we need them before we employ one of the R code cousins, and let’s be sure we implement the right one.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their websites and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Irish Internet Association, The Irish Times, Ogilvy, MD Golf and Web Recruit.

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.