QR code Summer Project 2009 from Sinap Co.

In Japan, if you venture into popular youth culture convenience stores such as Lawson or 7-11’s, you’ll see young people scanning magazines over product ads. Many mobile phones in Japan can read specific barcode ads, or binary codes–also known as QR codes. Binary codes or QR codes are often used in Japanese advertising and retail whereby consumers simply scan over the code (like an ad in a magazine for example) and the mobile phone image technology can read the code and deliver information to the consumer about the product, price, directions to the store, and so on.

QR codes are also known as mobile tagging and store URLs that appear in mags, signs, buses, billboards, business cards, you name it. The Japanese use this technology often but it’s still a relatively new thing in North America. This act of linking from the physical world is also known as hardlinks, which is at the very essence of mcommerce and within the realm of the growing nature of youth culture’s virtual lifestyles.

The attractiveness of mcommerce among young people correlates with the fact that their cell phones are often their main communication and entertainment systems, not to mention news source as more people are able to get online via their phones (i.e., iPhone). The concept of doing more on one’s cell phone, from playing games, texting, listening to music, downloading news, and so on, make the transition of actually shopping via m-commerce an attractive and organic concept to youth culture markets in North America, just as is already the case in Japan.

For example, in our North American Youth Culture Study, when it comes to malls, more people are choosing other areas to shop if possible, even though malls still rank quite high. However malls in America often have a hard time getting people from one area to another and yet in Japan, it’s not uncommon for someone to go to the 7th floor -up above street-level–for a specific themed store or to search for a brand because they know that it exists there. This is because of QR codes and the evolution of mcommerce. Young people can scan an ad in a magazine and get information about where that item is located which very often in the tightly packed city is located above street level. Web phones allow people to compare prices, or even deliver shout-outs when they’re in an area or near a store or brand or style of interest. This capability is starting to move into America but generally speaking, the Great American Mall concept is still way behind if you compare it with Japanese malls and youth culture shopping patterns. In America, the general thinking from malls and stores within malls, are that they expect people to come visit these massive complexes. It’s an institution.

Another area where mcommerce is changing up the fashion industry is with runway shows and events. For example at the Tokyo Girls Collection, a fashion runway event that attracted 40,000 young people from around the country last March, fans who attended could buy the items on the models directly via their mobile phone. This combination of entertainment and shopping and delivery meets the needs of a new generation of consumers.

In America, there are some brands that are tapping into the mcommerce movement, such as Urban Outfitters. Earlier this year, they started offering its blog and shopping site via mobile phones, a.k.a. mcommerce. Urban Outfitters mobile ecomm system (mcommerce) runs on Acuity Mobile’s eMAP platform that offers up both its blog, which provides a sense of community and content, and the option to shop for various items from Urban Outfitters online mobile store. It’s also compatible across platforms and phones, meaning iPhone people will not get the advantage over say, Blackberry users. With 144 stores across the United States, Canada, and Europe, being able to find various items or shop directly via one’s cell phone is at the forefront of lifestyle patterns for a generation that tends to use their phone for everything.

A sidenote about Urban Outfitters, which also includes brands such as Free People and stores such as Anthropologie, they not only have an outstanding blog, but they’ve changed their mix of merchandise in the last few years to include a wide range of brands such as Betsey Johnson and Calvin Klein, but also up-and-comers such as Silence & Noise. Like Hot Topic, they’ve also tapped into band merch apparel, plus music. By selling such a selection of items relevant to the lifestyle of youth culture today, including key footwear brands, denim, accessories, books, and various oddities, Urban Outfitters, according to our data, not only ranks well as a preferred retailer to shop in, but as a brand itself. It’s a similar fate as Hot Topic and American Apparel whereby the store is also associated as a brand and vice versa (H&M and Uniqlo also fall into this category among a new generation of shoppers).

Other great examples of mcommerce moving into the mainstream and across other mediums include:
Planeshop, a retailing concept/store currently located in Glasgow, that not only provides airport and flight information and cool tips on what to do while you’re waiting, but their site also offers up a QRcode at the bottom of their page in case you’re one of the lucky ones to have a Japanese cell phone that can read it and you want to download everything there is to know about Planeshop via your phone.
Sinap Co Ltd. testing if QR codes could be read digitally from a natural material like sand. In the Sinap Summer Project, they created a human-sized QR code on a beach about an hour outside of Tokyo made out of interlinked sand castles. Many people in the project recorded the “making-of” aspects including a clip on YouTube. Some 400 people have responded and said that yes, their mobile phones could read the QR code. The QR code helped Sinap’s Nishihama Surf Lifesaving Club to help promote beach clean-ups, giving the sand castle project a strong ripple effect and mcommerce or QR technology yet another level of messaging.
Space Invader tile street art in Paris: One of Space Invader’s new concepts combine the growing fascination among leading-edge street artists with technology. Invader has created now second messages behind the original tile artwork that can only be read by taking mobile phone images, particularly conducive to iPhone’s code Imatrix. In a video about his project, Invader talks about how tiles are a motif that works well within his aesthetic of hi-low art invading the world. His new work takes a deeper look at QR codes whereby on the surface, you can’t really tell that a piece is saying something until you read it via a mobile phone image.

For more information about Label Networks’ Digital Lifestyle Report 2009 or North American Youth Culture Study, or Japan Youth Culture Study, email info@labelnetworks.com; (323) 630-4000.