NEW YORK: Companies like Home Depot, Starbucks and Macy's are using QR codes to engage shoppers.

Home Depot, the DIY chain, first used these tools in advertising and bricks and mortar stores earlier this year, a move it expects to gain popularity across the industry.

QR codes are images that can be scanned by smartphones to find out information about goods and services.

The Home Depot material made available to people "snapping" a relevant symbol included "how-to" guides and suggestions discussing different aspects of home improvement.

"This is where other large retailers are heading," Tom Sweeney, Home Depot's senior director for online strategy, told the Los Angeles Times.

"We wanted to make sure we were in line with the retail world. It's definitely coming into its own and becoming a more prevalent way for retailers to connect broadly and engage with customers."

Colin Gibbs, an analyst at GigaOm Pro, the research firm, equally believes enthusiasm for such tactics was noticeably growing among brands.

"Advertisers are regarding them as the hottest new tool of mobile advertising," he said.

"They love QRs because they're cheap and easy to deploy, and you can put them anywhere from print ads to the back of stadium seats."

Last month, Starbucks rolled out a "scavenger hunt" linked to a tie-up with singer Lady Gaga, and involving solving puzzles on the web.

Access to this game was secured by activating QR codes in the company's stores, thus integrating the digital and physical spaces.

Running over several stages from May 23 to June 3, this initiative sought to encourage social interaction between participants.

"We wanted to make it so that there's things to talk about and share," said Matthew Guiste, Starbucks' director of global social media.

Department store chain Macy's unveiled a similar programme, "Backstage Pass", in February, offering 30-second films containing fashion hints and tips.

Users could also watch longer-form content starring founders and representatives of various brands, like Martha Stewart and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as influential bloggers.

In order to educate customers, large signs were displayed in stores presenting guidance about how QR codes worked.

Martine Reardon, Macy's executive vice president, marketing, asserted this approach yields a variety of potential benefits.

"[This] is an exciting evolution that brings our stable of fashion experts and designers directly to the customer while they're shopping in our store, through their hand-held mobile devices," she said.

"By providing fun and informative video features ... we are connecting and engaging our customer in a personal way that enhances and adds a new element to their shopping experience."

Research firm Forrester revealed last year that just 1% of all mobile subscribers - and 5% of the smartphone audience - had interacted with QR codes.

However, it reported 25% of people with a handset powered by Google Android, and 7% of their iPhone counterparts, interacted in this way during the three months prior to the study.

Alongside driving awareness, concerns related to privacy, a worry covering many elements of the digital sector, also need to be addressed.

"Theoretically, over time companies can build up their database and amass a collection of information that leads to a profile of who I am and what I buy," said Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester.

Data sourced from Los Angeles Times/Mashable; additional content by Warc staff