Earlier this month, Home Shopping Network (HSN) conducted a four-day television experiment aimed at educating viewers of its shopping network on the use of “QR codes” or “Quick Response codes”—i.e., black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background similar to bar codes. The trial allowed viewers to scan QR codes appearing on their TV screens with a mobile device in order to test whether such technology could increase sales. HSN ran the QR codes (each corresponding with the products for sale) on its high-definition channel in the corner of the TV screen. When the QR codes were scanned by a mobile device, viewers were sent to the online product page on HSN’s mobile website which provided viewers with additional product information and the option to click-to-buy the relevant product. While QR codes have become commonplace in magazine and poster ads, HSN is the first to make this technology available for television.

The idea to place QR codes on TV screens stemmed from HSN’s sales trends, which showed an increasing number of viewers buying products using the browser on their mobile devices rather than calling in the order. HSN appears to be looking for a way to capitalize on this trend by creating a seamless shopping experience for those viewers who are simultaneously watching HSN and using their mobile devices to make purchases. HSN hinted before the experiment that if viewers take to the use of QR codes on their TV screens, the next step would be for HSN to offer a scan-to-buy feature where a scan of the onscreen QR code would automatically place the product directly in the viewer’s mobile shopping cart for purchase.

Critics caution that HSN must first overcome the slow consumer adoption of this technology. Market research has shown that many people do not use QR codes—e.g., according to comScore, only 6.2% of mobile users in the United States scanned a QR code in June. This slow adoption rate has been attributed, in part, to the fact that the applications necessary to read QR codes (referred to as QR readers) are not fully integrated into the hardware of most mobile devices. Consequently, consumers do not know how to download QR readers to their mobile devices or how to use the QR readers once they are downloaded.

HSN appears to be downplaying the experiment’s significance by emphasizing that it was intended primarily to educate HSN viewers about QR codes. But we will be interested to see how this initiative evolves, and whether consumer use of QR codes increases.