Just playing tag
On the one simple thing every clothing manufacturer and shoe maker should be doing with their tags
QR codes have been with us for a long time -- since 1994, in fact -- but it took until the very recent past for them to achieve the sort of mass-market adoption that makes them a utility rather than a novelty. It helped when Google built a QR code reader into the camera application a few years ago, but the real ignition came aboard the conversion from physical menus to digital ones.
■ That particular artifact of the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to remain a permanent feature of the world ahead: The term menu costs is a long-recognized influence on economics. It literally costs time and money to update menus (and, of course, other business costs, not just for restaurants proper), so the widespread adoption of a technological alternative that can be easily updated (especially at near-zero expense) is attractive -- especially in a period of higher-than-normal inflation.
■ Yet even as restaurants and other consumer-facing businesses have come to appreciate QR codes, at least one obvious use case seems to have gone under-appreciated. Why hasn't every clothing retailer figured out to put a QR code on the inside label, so people can easily point and click to re-order? There is really no excuse for any of them not to be doing it already.
■ The obstacles to doing so are practically nil. QR codes can be generated easily and in bulk, and all they have to do is point to some kind of durable page somewhere on the manufacturer's website. Printing them on a label inside the garment, shoe, or accessory is no more complicated than printing the washing instructions in more than one language.
■ The time and frustration alone it might save would make the feature a brilliant one, especially for items like children's clothes or adults' shoes: Items that have to be replaced on a relatively frequent basis, but for which people have little patience to go on long searches. Kids grow up fast, and replacing their clothes with the next size in the same style a family has grown to like is often all too much work.
■ Running shoes may come in new styles each year, but most sub-professional athletes really just want to get the same fit with the same cushioning and arch support that they got the time before. Reasonable people don't have time to start the search from scratch every time, trying to understand the difference between last year's Gel-Nimbus 22 RCX-A and this year's Gel-Nimbus 24 (2E). A simple QR code pointing to a stable page for a certain style (or to its "new" successor) would be invaluable.
■ And it's not just shoes. Most people have old favorites -- underwear, socks, pants, whatever -- that fit just right. There's no desire to shop around to find them all over again, and why should anyone spend the time?
■ Bill Gates once said (of raw product innovation), "We have to make sure we are the ones replacing our products instead of someone else." But for products where that raw innovation is more a matter of marketing than of actual provable performance improvement -- like clothing and footwear -- it makes all the sense in the world to put the innovation into the purchasing experience. Besides, wouldn't adding a QR code to the tag be cheaper in the long run than paying for all those free returns?