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Are QR Codes Worth Trying?

Just scan this QR code and you’ll…..

  • See our menu?
  • Get access to our specials?
  • Finally, find the secret to life?

You just never know what will happen at the other end of a QR code. It’s a real roulette wheel!

Digital marketers often spend their time focused on new technologies and the latest advancements in the tech they are already using. Yet, for many, QR codes are not on their radar, and the question is, “Are these things relevant to your business?”

During the last Superbowl, football fans saw the bouncing QR code on the screen for a full 60-seconds. It was an ad for Coinbase that was so successful that it actually crashed the app.

QR codes are not new in that they have been used for decades and most people are pretty familiar with them. Yet, for many digital marketers, they have yet to be implemented as a tool with a purpose. If you are not using them, you might be missing out on core opportunities.

QR codes have made a significant comeback. Today, according to stats from Statista, more than 11 million U.S. householders are using a QR code. That makes it one of the most important unknown tools to digital marketers. What can they offer you?

The History of QR Codes

The QR code system was created in 1994 by Masahiro Hara. Way back in the 1960s, when prosperity was rapidly growing in Japan specifically, supermarkets were flooded with new products and a larger inventory of goods to sell to consumers. Yet, at that point, every item purchased still had to be keyed into the register. It was time-consuming and put a lot of pressure on cashiers. The barcode provides substantial help for this, but it has its limitations. Specifically, the barcode could only hold 20 numbers and letter characters. That worked for some time but wasn’t effective enough for all needs.

Hara, with his company Denso Wave, worked to develop the initial design for QR codes as a solution for this. The company was working to develop barcode readers at the time and was asked whether they could develop barcodes that maintained more information. This was when Denso Wave took to the development of a new, two-dimensional code.

Barcodes code information in one direction (they are one-dimensional), but 2D codes could code information in two directions across and up and down. The 2D code was a challenge to create, but Hara decided to try to add positional information that indicated the existence of a code to read, which would help speed up the reading of these codes.

Once developed, QR codes worked well in the auto industry, where they made the management of the production and shipping process far easier and more efficient. They would later be used on numerous types of packaging throughout many industries for the same reasons.

The explosion of the cell phone industry pushed the use of static QR codes even further into the hands of consumers. Now, it was easy for anyone with a smartphone to scan a code to gather the information that they could then use to make a decision about buying a product or not. It also enabled businesses to have more insight into shopping trends.

While they have been around since 1994, QR codes fell out of popularity for a long time. They became almost obsolete.

In 2011, just 6.3% of smartphone users in the U.S. were using QR codes. A study by INC Magazine in 2012 found that 97% of consumers did not even know what a QR code was. They were misunderstood and simply not recognized in day-to-day use.

Other times, the content that the code redirected the user to was not easy to read – such as a website that was not mobile-friendly. Other times, undefined links occurred. People didn’t like them because they didn’t seem efficient or effective. More so, early versions required the use of a downloaded app as well as the smartphone camera to work. Again, this all added up to a hard-to-use tool that did not really provide a lot of valuable information.

Many believed QR codes would simply fade away the way of the Betamax.

The Pandemic Changed the Use of QR Codes

In truth, QR codes started to make a comeback long before the pandemic hit in 2020. In 2016, Snapchat and Messenger apps included QR code technology in them, which helped to encourage social media users to try out the tools again. That offered a glimmer of hope.

The pandemic helped to seal the desirability of these codes. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, suddenly people did not want to be near others, and there was a need for far more than six feet of distance between people. QR codes offered a solution – it was now possible to have a contactless and touchless way to gather information and make purchases. Significant refinement in their use and improved overall mobile functionality, including the ability for cameras to no longer need an app, made these codes more streamlined and effective.

Today, QR codes create a frictionless experience. They are easy to use and provide a wealth of support for users. In many ways, these codes have become intrinsic ways of both sales and marketing.

QR Code Statistics

In 2020, more than 11 million homes in the U.S. scanned a QR code. That’s huge growth from just 2018, when just 9.76 million scans took place, according to a survey from Statista. In 2020, 18.8 percent of U.S. consumers strongly agreed that they had noticed an increase in the use of these codes since the start of the pandemic.

Another survey, this time from PYMNTS in early 2021, found that 11 million homes in the U.S. would use QR codes that year to make payments. It also noted that about 50 percent of U.S. restaurants now offer QR codes. They also found that 66.5% of consumers preferred to use QR codes as a digital payment method which is more than a contactless debit or credit card, digital wallet, or POS credit.

Where Are QR Codes Being Used?

There are many applications for QR codes. They can be used in virtually any industry and for different purposes. Here is a look at a few examples of how they are being used.

Food packaging industry

One of the ways that QR codes are being used is in the food packaging industry, specifically on labels. Consumers can scan these codes using their phones and gather a great deal of information about the food product. In Canada, this is heavily used. Consumers scan labels to get information about the product or the company. One of the most effective ways of getting consumers to do this is to employ the use of contests, while another is to provide access to recipes. Some have incorporated the use of games, too. This enables companies to get consumers to their websites.


As noted, consumers have taken to the use of QR codes for payments. With a simple scan of a code at a cash register or even online, they can make a digital payment in a matter of seconds. The entire process is contactless, too. One study found that those consumers who pay with QR codes like this are some of the most loyal customers. Some even stated that if this method of payment was not available to them, they would not complete the purchase.

One of the key reasons for the growth in the payments sector is because of the increasing amount of consumer concern over safety and not wanting to carry a card with them that could be lost or stolen. QR codes are highly safe to use and minimize any risk of data being stolen, providing peace of mind.


The tourism industry has also made strong use of QR codes, and with good reason. It enables tourists to be able to gather information and translates it for them. For example, a tourist can scan a sign to get information about what is inside or get help finding a destination. They can also get historical data about the location, which can help to provide educational value to tourists who may be facing a language barrier.

The Pros & Cons of Using a QR Code

Using a QR code for business can be one of the most beneficial tools for many organizations. There are many ways they can be helpful, including bringing more traffic to the company’s website. A quick scan of a code makes it far easier to get the information needed than typing in a long URL.

The Pros

Some of the major benefits of using a QR code include:

·     Reducing costs. There is far less need to print materials when you can provide a digital point of access to the information that’s needed. This may not seem like a significant benefit, but in many ways, it reduces marketing and print costs considerably.

·     Fast and efficient. Communicating with consumers is much faster and more efficient when using QR codes over the use of just about any other method, including in-person conversations. Consumers can quickly gather what information they need.

·     Easy way to build lists. A code placed on a product or location can easily lead a consumer to a website that collects their information for a contest or a special promotion, providing the company with access to continue to engage with that consumer on an ongoing basis.

·     Tracking system use. Businesses can use QR codes as a way to track the way consumers use their products or how they interact with their products online. They can easily assign a tracking system to the code for a wide range of purposes.

·     They are mobile-friendly. When it comes to engagement opportunities using mobile devices, there may not be a better option than the use of a smartphone. QR codes are built to be mobile-friendly, providing a viable solution that’s easy for consumers to use.

The Cons

Some of the significant concerns with these codes include:

·     Personal touch is lost. When using QR codes for some tasks, such as customer service, there is a lack of personalized touch. There is no human interaction that may impact some brands more than others.

·     User knowledge. While they are growing in popularity and use, there may be a gap in that some people may not know about them or how to use them. More so, not everyone has a mobile phone with a camera capable of picking up and using these codes.

·     Education is needed. It is also important for businesses to tell consumers why they are using a code. Let them know what they are going to gain when they use the code is important.

How to Use QR Codes for Marketing

QR codes are helpful in many ways, including marketing. Companies can modify and develop these codes for many reasons, and they can develop new opportunities as well due to the flexibility that is built into these codes. Some ways you may wish to focus on this from a marketing point of view include:

  • Drive traffic to websites through games, promotions, or other content, including driving people to websites that are using print ads, a hard transition to make possible
  • Boost social media following by using these tools to help consumers link to a brand’s social media accounts from print media
  • Encourage customer reviews from the QR code, providing a fast and easy way to build reviews that are often necessary for building brand loyalty and even play a role in search engine optimization
  • Create engagement opportunities between the brand and social media followers or product buyers, allowing for both data research as well as the ability to gather valuable data
  • Create personalized experiences for consumers, such as creating an immersive experience without having to be in person, including providing a virtual tour or other relevant information
  • Send customers to your products online so they can purchase directly, even if they only have a business card with a code on it in person
  • Build email lists through promotional offers only available through the access of the QR code

These are just a few of the many ways that consumers are using QR codes. Companies who utilize this affordable and accessible method in their own way, create new opportunities to reach, understand, and meet the needs of their customers. That helps them to drive sales as well as builds brand loyalty over the long term.

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