Scan-savvy signage

Departments - Retail Revival | Store improvement tips from the Garden Lady

QR codes can direct customers to accessible, specific information, all through the snap of a smartphone camera.

June 3, 2022

IGCs can use QR codes to train employees, disseminate information, engage customers and collect data.
Photo © DragonImages | Adobe Stock

It’s very possible that you will soon come to view the QR code as your IGC’s digital assistant. These “Quick Response” graphics were invented in 1994 and were initially used to track automobiles during the manufacturing process. Later, they become common in advertising, and they are frequently seen in print ads or even on billboards. What was once viewed as an odd square with black and white patterns is now widely viewed as an invitation to learn more about an event, item or brand.

In the early QR code days, people needed to download a QR code reader hey needed to open in order to read make the connection. Now, most smartphones will read a code just by scanning the design through the camera. Increasing numbers of people are familiar with using their phones and QR codes to access information, especially since so many restaurants have used this technology to provide contactless menus during the pandemic. In fact, many dining establishments have permanent QR codes on the tables, allowing people to easily access updated menus using their smartphones.

IGCs can take advantage of the increasing familiarity with QR codes, using them for employee training, information dissemination and assorted forms of customer engagement or data collection. It all starts with your website because the QR code will take those who scan it directly to a specific web page.

For example, if you want to be sure the customer looking at the large B&B trees in the nursery knows they can have those plants delivered and planted, you can put a sign in that area. The signage can say “We deliver and plant!” next to a QR code that takes them directly to the page about delivery and planting services. That web page can contain all the information about charges and procedures so that the customer has everything they need to decide to purchase simply by scanning the code with their phone.

Because it’s easy to generate a graphic that leads to a specific page on your website, a QR code allows you to take customers to the precise information or particular form with just one click. Even a PDF uploaded to your website’s media library has its own dedicated URL, allowing a QR code to point directly to that document, even if it’s not a normally visible page on your site. Never have a graphic that takes the user to the home page of your website, requiring the customer to hunt for the information they need. The beauty of these codes is that you can generate an endless number that point to distinctive URLs.

There are several free QR code generators online. All you need to do is to put in a complete URL where you want customers to land, and you’ll be given the graphic to download. Copy and paste that graphic on your sign, print it out and laminate it if you wish. If you make the text on that sign short, sweet and compelling, or add an eye-catching photo, you’ve got a useful portal to a precise page on your site.

Information where it’s needed

What are the questions that you frequently hear from your customers? Create a web page that answers that question, and post a laminated sign with a QR graphic that leads to that page. Does your pond department hear “When are the fish coming in?” several times a day? Put a page or post on your website with the anticipated aquatic life delivery schedule, and make a sign to place in that department that says “Looking for fish?” with a QR code that leads to the complete information. This allows you to put details far too numerous to contain on one sign right in the customer’s hand, even as your staff is assisting other people.

In order to help those who are new to planting, you might post a “How to plant a shrub” sign and code in strategic places in the nursery. This can lead to step-by-step instructions, complete with photos or drawings, that the customer can print out once they get home.

No printing handouts

Twenty years ago, at my garden center, we had a rather large “Information Station” that was filled with printed handouts. This rack contained information about planting, dealing with common problems and information about pruning hydrangeas. Since this rack was in our covered patio area — no room in the store — it was subject to the rise and fall of outdoor temperatures and humidity. The handouts frequently turned yellow and curled, and when customers returned unwanted copies to the rack, they were often misplaced or crammed in and wrinkled.

QR codes allow us to use that space for the items we actually sell, while still giving our customers access to the handouts. We don’t have to print them, display them or keep them clean and organized. And if our customers bookmark the URL where they are led, they are more likely to have that information where and when they need it.

Surprise them!

During the busy season, it’s common for most garden centers to have a line at the cashier stations. Use this as a way to delight those in line with QR codes. You might have a code on a sign that asks a question, and the graphic leads to a joke. “What is a gardener’s favorite Beetles song?” The code leads to a page on your site with the answer: “Lettuce Be.” There is any number of garden jokes online that can keep your customers either groaning or laughing, but always distracted from the wait. Beyond jokes, you can also surprise your customers with inside information.

Sign up here

A QR code can lead directly to sign-up forms on your website. “Do you get our newsletter?” goes directly to the sign-up area for your email communications. If you have separate newsletters targeted at different audiences, have a QR sign that draws those people in. For example, “Love growing edibles? Sign up for regular information,” or “Got kids? Sign up to hear about our children’s activities.”

Employee training

The same signs that educate our customers can also keep all the employees on the same page. If your company is committed to organic methods, for example, make that information available with a sign and code for customers, but have your staff scan and read it as well. This is especially helpful with cross-training in different departments. Those working in the annuals can scan for the information about choosing the right pot, planting a tree or choosing the right fertilizer. Employees working in the nursery can read the basics about low-light houseplants or the best aquatics plants for a home pond. The entire staff can be up to date on answers to the most frequently asked questions throughout the store, all with a click of their phone.

QR might officially stand for Quick Response, but for IGCs it might also mean Quite Resourceful.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at