Shell’s big QR code experiment

Shell QR code

When I called in to a Shell station in Reading on Saturday to fill up my car with fuel, I noticed this banner attached to the side of the pump I was using.

“Fill up and go here with our speedy payment service,” it says. “Powered by PayPal.” And there’s a big QR code in the middle of the sign.

It’s called Fill Up And Go and the usage idea is simple:

You’ll be able to use it through the Shell Motorist App. Select a pump on the forecourt, enter the maximum amount you wish to spend, then scan the QR code or punch in the ID number at your pump, all from inside your car. The App then releases the pump for use and you can then fill up and go. When you’ve finished, a receipt will be automatically sent to your phone.

As it says, you use it with the Shell Motorist app for iOS or Android plus a PayPal account, the only payment method you can use. Shell says you can also use PayPal’s mobile app to pay for your fuel purchase. There is a transaction range: £20 minimum, up to £150 maximum (with the price of fuel these days, that maximum doesn’t seem too low).

Station LocatorShell announced this new service earlier this year, saying it was being tested and would roll out later in the year. Shell says it’s the first fuel retailer to offer such a service across the UK. The Shell station in Reading where I saw the banner is one I use pretty regularly, with my last visit about ten days ago. So the sign has appeared within the past week.

I’ve been using the Shell Motorist app for some time – to track loyalty points and see offers, etc – but hadn’t noticed reference to this new service until I looked for it.

And the app does mention it, with the Shell station locator map for my immediate area showing a station not far from my house that is participating in it. So that’s my destination when I need to fill up again, probably within a week or so.

I want to try it out, to see if it is a convenient and easy way to pay for fuel as Shell expects it to be. When it comes down to it, that’s what it has to be – convenient and easy – for it to gain consumer acceptance, especially when it comes to a technology like QR codes that you can’t say has had a warm reception, never mind gained universal consumer acceptance.

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who implement them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling. But there are great examples of imagination alongside the mistakes (some of the latter potentially brand-damaging such as what happened to Heinz recently).

In the case of Shell’s QR code experiment, I think it’s imaginative and likely to appeal to people who want greater convenience and ease of use when performing a task as mundane as filling up your car with fuel. No more walking over to a cashier and offering a card for payment, or fiddling with a pay-at-the-pump card system (although I can’t recall seeing one of those at a Shell station) – with the new Shell service, you just complete the transaction with your smartphone whilst sitting comfortably in your car.

Use of mobile devices is prohibited on most petrol station forecourts in the UK. But using this new Shell service should be dead easy from the driver’s seat. Then you get out of the car to fill your tank, get back in the car and drive away when done, with the payment receipt automatically sent to your phone.

I wonder how it could evolve in future. Maybe petrol stations could revert to the service ethic of yore when you had someone who came out to fill your tank while you stayed in your car. You’d add perhaps 10 percent to the cost as a service charge. A small price to pay for the convenience and comfort. Could be quite a service differentiator.

Perhaps something along the lines of what Shell reportedly started offering a few years ago.


But first things first. I’m looking forward to trying it and adding it to my list of imaginative uses of QR codes, not to the lame list.

Making a QR code useful isn’t rocket science

Scan this QR code for more information...A technology that’s often subject to much criticism is QR codes, those square symbols that enable a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to interpret the data they contain and deliver information to you when you scan them

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who create them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling.

But when you see a great example of how a QR code is being used to convey useful information on a practical level, that’s when you see how genuinely useful they can be in terms of the information they enable you to access or the experiences they enable you to enjoy, or both.

I’ve written about QR codes quite a bit in this blog, highlighting the good and the not so good. Here’s another example, definitely for the ‘good’ list.

I spotted this QR code one evening recently as a key element of a sign on a bus stop in Wokingham, the town in southeast England where I live.

Next bus

Quite simple – scan the QR code to get information on when buses are due to arrive at that particular bus stop.

So you scan the code with your phone, and get a result like this:


It tells me quite clearly when I can expect the next bus. If I were waiting for a bus at that stop, perhaps just arriving there, I’d find that useful. As the sign shows, I have other options to get information. There’s also the real-time display on the bus stop itself, bringing in bus timetable information by wifi to display.

Plenty of choices.

While this is a simple example, it does demonstrate how to add a method of access to information that will appeal to some people, some bus travellers in this case. Not everyone will be interested or even have a smartphone with them. But if you are and you do, then this is a good example of offering something useful to your audience that will appeal to some of them, and that requires little effort (or real cost) to implement.

Crucially, it is available to the consumer at no cost other than any charges related to data use via their carrier’s cellular or wifi network.

It reminds me in a small way of the Monmouthpedia experiment a few years ago – access via QR codes to useful information in a town where you could get a great network connection (and, so, access to the content) that will appeal to some people, not necessarily all of them.


The biggest barrier that stands in the way of wider acceptance and use of QR codes is the simple fact that every mobile phone with a camera needs a barcode scanning app in order to make use of QR codes. Currently, no phone from any UK carrier comes with such an app already installed – you have to find one in an app store, download it and install it.

As soon as such apps come with a phone – perhaps as part of the core apps, or the extra software mobile operators typically install – we’ll all be ready. Then it’s up to the advertisers, marketers and communicators to attract our attention, interest, desire and action with the application of something imaginative and compelling.

Something that will make me scan your code. Because I can.

Imagine what the Bank of England could have done with its QR code ad

A quarter-page ad by the Bank of England in yesterday’s Telegraph caught my eye primarily because it contained a QR code.

The print ad informs you that the £50 note featuring an engraved portrait of Sir John Houblon on the reverse side will be withdrawn from circulation at the end of April.

The ad also includes a phone number, email and website addresses, plus a QR code that you’d typically scan with a barcode scanning app on your smartphone to bring you something – further information, for instance.

Ad: withdrawal of £50 'Houblon' banknote

So I scanned the QR code with a sense of anticipation, wondering what useful and interesting information I’d get.

More details about the withdrawal, certainly. Why it was happening, perhaps, and what to do if I have any such £50 notes in my wallet. Could I still use them on the High Street? If so, for how long?

When you scan a QR code, you’ll usually get a screen asking you for permission to proceed and take the action suggested, eg, load up the browser on your device and retrieve the information linked to from the QR code.

Barcode scan result

I tapped ‘Open browser’ and the result was indeed further information presented in a web page.

The trouble is, that web page is a page designed for use on a large screen such as you have when using  a desktop computer or a laptop, or even the ten inches or so on a full-size tablet.

Certainly not what you’d find useful (usable, even) on a five-inch smartphone like my Galaxy S4 when the browser tries to render the complete page on the comparatively tiny screen.

Web page: Withdrawal of the Houblon £50 Note

Even if you have perfect vision, that’s nigh-on impossible to read.

With a bit of pinch-zooming in and out, though, I could see some very useful information on this page:

  • Details about the why and when of the note’s withdrawal from circulation: amplified information of the concise text in the print ad
  • A link to “What to do with old ‘Houblon’ £50 notes,” an informative video published last January where Victoria Cleland, head of the Bank’s Notes Division, tells you the basics of what you need to know and what to do.
  • Links to two PDF posters, one in English the other in Welsh.

There’s reference to an FAQ list but no link to it that I could see.

Given the clear trend to increasing use of mobile devices, what I wish the Bank had done was something like this:

  1. Present everything anyone would need to know about the note’s withdrawal from circulation in a manner designed for use on a mobile device.
  2. Engage the visitor on a mobile device with content that brings that person into the story you tell – far more than simply dry information about the withdrawal of a £50 banknote.
  3. Tell me about Sir John Houblon. I’d not heard of him (I don’t see many £50 notes). I didn’t know he was the first governor of the Bank of England, for instance, from 1694 to 1697 according to the Wikipedia entry. Or the story about the engraved image of him on the £50 note.
  4. Use this as an opportunity to educate people and raise awareness about currency, reinforcing key messages about legitimacy, counterfeiting, etc.
  5. And an opportunity to restate key facts about the Bank, it’s role in the economy and in society in general.

Capture people’s imaginations, in other words.

Instead, an opportunity gone missing.

Buy a real pint with a virtual currency


A British pub lets you pay for your pint with Bitcoins:

[…] The system is quick and effective. The bar staff press two buttons on the till and the screen displays a QR code. The customer opens their digital Bitcoin wallet, takes a snap of the screen and confirms the payment. The staff press one more button and the transaction is complete. Snapping the QR code in a crowded bar could be a challenge but in a quiet pub it is faster than paying by card.

It’s an imaginative use of a QR code. Imagine the challenge, though, trying to focus the camera of your smartphone after quite a few pints have been consumed…

A contact-less payment option would be good. Wonder when some bank or financial entrepreneur will enable that on a card for Bitcoin payment.

Snap up a Pint in Britain’s First Bitcoin Pub
Bitcoin has its first British boozer. The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, east London – as well as its sister pubs in Cambridge, Norwich and Peterborough – are now accepting the virtual currency.
It was pub group founder Stephen Early, a former computer scientist, who decided to give the currency a go. “I bought some in 2011 but there wasn’t really anything to do with them,” he explains. “So I did the equivalent of putting them in a drawer and for…

Post imported by Google+Blog for WordPress.

(Bitcoins image at top via Salon.)

Related posts:

McDonald’s new packaging, a QR code and telling brand stories

McDonald's new global packaging

The next time you visit a McDonald’s restaurant, especially in the US, check the packaging for information about the nutritional value of the food you’re about to eat.

While you can read concise info on the packaging itself, more interesting perhaps is a link to that information in the form of a QR code that you scan with your smartphone’s camera; that action then brings information from a McDonald’s website to your screen that you can read and also share with your social networks. As many McDonald’s restaurants have free wifi these days, getting a connection to do this shouldn’t be an issue.

The company said the launch of its new packaging began last week in the US and will roll out worldwide during 2013, with the text being translated into 18 different languages. McDonald’s says a key objective with the new packaging is to communicate brand stories in an engaging and modern way:

[…] A blend of text, illustrations and a QR code will deliver interesting facts about the brand and make nutrition information easily accessible from mobile devices.

“Our new packaging is designed to engage with customers in relevant ways and celebrate our brand,” said Kevin Newell, McDonald’s Chief Brand Officer. “Customers tell us they want to know more about the food they are eating and we want to make that as easy as possible by putting this information right at their fingertips.”

It’s a good example of how a device like a QR code can add value to your PR or marketing communication, not only in the imagination you bring to bear in what happens when your customer scans the code, but also thinking about the framework, as it were, to enable that action to happen: in this case, a restaurant with a high likelihood that customers will be there with mobile devices, so provide the wifi network to let them get online easily and freely.

One note to mention, though. I think McDonald’s missed a good trick with their news release about this story. A page of text, that’s it. Imagine if they had included images and links, and the QR code with that announcement so readers like me could check it out, maybe do a screenshot of the result, add some commentary about it, bring it directly to the attention of my network and increase the opportunities for sharing McDonald’s story.

Sounds like I’m almost talking about a social media news release!

In any case, the result of what you see in the photo above looks like it fits with the key objective McDonald’s talks about. I’ll look out for the packaging when I next visit a UK McDonald’s.

(Via Digiday)

Related posts:

What if Brancott had got it right with their QR code?


QR codes attract a great deal of commentary in marketing and communication circles, and pretty critical more often than not.

I have a strong interest in QR codes, not so much about the technology of them: it’s far more about how marketers and others use them in their efforts to engage with consumers and others.

When I’m out and about, I keep an eye out for examples of how businesses use QR codes, looking for examples good and bad (hopefully, more of the former).

I encountered one today in my local Waitrose supermarket. Unfortunately, it’s one of the latter use examples, ie, a bad one.

New Zealand winery Brancott Estate has a QR code on their boxed Sauvignon blanc wine as the photo above illustrates.

Positioned next to a QR code at the top-right corner of the box, the words “What if you scanned this code?” caught my eye.

What if indeed, I thought, and duly took out my Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone, fired up the Barcode Scanner app for Android  devices and scanned the code.

So far, so good:


I chose ‘Open browser’ which does precisely that – opens the browser on the phone and loads the web page at the address the app found embedded in the QR code.

And what a disappointment:


What I got was Brancott Estate’s desktop website trying to show itself on my smartphone screen. That’s the point where my journey of discovery to find the answer to “What if…?” hit the buffers, smacked into the brick wall, got derailed by poor execution of potentially a good idea.

Even though the page in question is the legally-required one that purveyors of alcoholic beverages have to show you before you’re able to enter a website – and on which you have to declare your age before you can enter – does the legal requirement say anything about presenting the page in a way that’s totally unusable on mobile devices: usually the required device to take advantage of a QR code? I bet it doesn’t.

Setting aside any legal points, I’m also pretty sure that the last thing you would want to have happen is a shopper standing in the middle of a busy supermarket next to your attractive product display, wielding a smartphone and swiping the screen hither and thither to work out where on the web page the fields are you’ve got to type into and then find a submit button.

Good grief!

You have to do much better than this, Brancott marketers. You had an eye-catching and compelling call to action with your “What if…?” text – far better than the usual “Scan this QR code and…” that you tend to see – but your call to action failed on the execution.

You can’t blame the technology. So all I can say in answer to the question “What if you scanned this code?” is “I have no idea other than #FAIL.”

Imagine if you had got it right. What would I have discovered? What experiences might you have offered me? Could I then imagine wanting to sample your product – I love trying out new wines – and, so, actually buy one of these boxes?

We’ll never know, more’s the pity.

Related posts: