Retailers are reinventing themselves by transforming the way they engage and interact with consumers — and all at the click of a button. One of the drivers of this new approach are Quick Response (QR) codes, those small, square barcodes that can be optically scanned by a smartphone to provide information to the user or direct them to a website.

QR codes have their origins in our industry. They were invented in 1994 as a tool to help track Toyota vehicles through the manufacturing process. Because they are free and easy to create and can hold so much information, dealers began using them to track their own inventories as well as for marketing purposes.

Some say QR codes have had their day, but recent developments prove that retailers of all kinds believe the little barcodes are here to stay. What does this mean for auto dealers? First, let’s take a look at three new QR campaigns taking place outside our industry:

Walmart recently unveiled “Scan & Go,” an app that allows shoppers to scan and instantly bag groceries as they shop. The shopper then proceeds to the self-checkout register and taps the “Transfer Scan & Go Basket” button on the checkout screen. Scanning the QR code immediately transfers the items from the phone to the register. It’s quick, easy and efficient.

Peapod, a grocery and delivery service, has begun decorating train stations, coffee sleeves and community recreation centers with two-dimensional shelves of in-store products. Users can instantly scan grocery lists, then pay and select a time and place for delivery. It’s convenient, fast and transformational.

Best Buy recently started incorporating QR codes into in-store displays as part of its product fact tags. They are used to providing shoppers with not only additional product information, but immediate access to customer reviews. The QR codes create prime upsell opportunities. They are informative, educational and scalable.

These campaigns are driven by consumer behavior. In June, the Pew Research Center announced that 56 percent of American adults are now smartphone owners. Forrester Research found that shoppers between the ages of 18 and 34 use QR codes more than the rest of the population, especially during and after an in-store shopping experience.

So where does the automotive industry rank when it comes to engaging in this type of innovative thinking, use and application? For the most part, dealers and OEMs are still testing the waters. QR codes are showing up on displays inside and outside dealerships as well as in newspaper ads and billboards. Savvy dealers have begun loading them with links to instant discounts. They’re also using them to capture customer information by including a signup screen.

Will this trend continue for automotive retailing? The simple answer is “Yes,” because consumers will continue to carry over the habits they learn from other types of retailers. Auto dealers need to make sure they are not only keeping up with the latest trends, but also transforming their usage and application of these trends to achieve real gains, including more online and offline traffic.

Here are three steps you and your staff can take to make this technology work for your operation:

1. Ask Questions: Ask potential buyers what technology they’re using and why they’re using it. You also want to know what type of shopping experience they are looking for when it comes to buying a vehicle. 

2. Think Virtual: Find a way to “virtually” bring your dealership to current and potential clients. Step outside of the box by creating an intriguing way to captivate your audience. What lessons can we learn from retailers in other industries?

3. Test and Re-test: Whether you use QR codes, SMS short codes, augmented reality apps, mobile apps, or Bluetooth near field communication (NFC) technology, you have to know which one delivers the best shopping experience for your market to reach customers.

Finally, take chances and change the game. The need to drive online and offline interaction is here to stay. The real question is, what will you do to transform the car-buying and servicing experience?