QR codes are back and ready to hit it big

Discussion
Jan 15, 2018
Matthew Stern

In today’s fickle media landscape, yesterday’s big joke can suddenly become today’s big trend. That could be the case with QR codes, if they are in fact making the comeback that some researchers are anticipating.

A study by Juniper concluded that QR code coupon redemption by mobile will experience a significant upswing in the next five years. Juniper anticipates the number of coupons redeemed via QR code to hit 5.3 billion by 2022, up from 1.3 billion in 2017.

QR codes began frequently appearing on movie posters and other promotional materials in the U.S. in the early part of the 2010’s alongside the mobile boom, providing what was intended as a quick way to point a mobile browser to a URL.

But the codes were not well-received. A satirical Tumblr page, called “Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes,” summed up the Millennial assessment of the technology. As of January 2018, the blog still features only a three-word punchline, dated February 29, 2012; it reads, “No posts yet.”

And in the years that followed, it became common to read about QR code failures. A marketer writing at AdAge, for instance, announced the death of QR codes in 2013, attributing it to the clunkiness of the process. Back then smartphone users had to take a clear picture of the code and run it through a separate app only to be pushed to a webpage via browser — in an era when mobile connectivity was not as assured as it is today.

Another article from 2012 on Gizmodo, bluntly titled “How QR Codes Work and Why They Suck So Hard,” added to the list of grievances the fact that marketers seemed to be pushing QR code use as an insincere sign of tech savviness.

But improved mobile connectivity may be helping to breathe new life into QR codes. And new use cases have emerged for them, too. For instance, in China the codes are being used as the key to getting in and out of that country’s first cashier-less automated grocery store, Bingobox. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will QR codes become as popular at retail as Juniper’s research suggests? How can retailers, brands and marketers make the best use of QR codes?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I said it when QR codes came out. It’ll die if you have to fire up an app to scan it and it opens another app to consume the content."
"For brands that really want mobile engagement, near field communications or emerging radio frequency (RF) interfaces are much more attractive."
"I don’t think we’ll be scanning QR codes as we know them now, but I do think we will be scanning AR codes that are personalized to a brand’s campaign."

Join the Discussion!

23 Comments on "QR codes are back and ready to hit it big"


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Dave Nixon
BrainTrust

I said it when QR codes came out. It’ll die if you have to fire up an app to scan it and it opens another app to consume the content. If it’s built in to the camera software, adoption will increase because you’ve removed a major friction point in usability. Doubt it’ll be that big of an impact, but it’ll find new life in various aspects. There will be evolutions that are even easier to leverage. Back from the dead!

Mike Templeton
Guest

Have you seen Apple built this into their camera now? And you can get to the camera right from the lockscreen. Google beat them by integrating a scanner into Google Chrome (which Firefox has done now too), but I agree that the lack of native integration was always one of the biggest challenges.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

QR codes will not be returning fast for all the reasons that they failed to launch into the mainstream despite the hype. Interfaces need to have minimal steps and require little time and no frustration, let alone crowding the visual interface on a consumer device. For brands that really want mobile engagement, near field communications or emerging radio frequency (RF) interfaces are much more attractive.

Mike Templeton
Guest

Who do you think those are more attractive for? Consumers, marketers, or solution providers? The biggest thing QR codes have going is that the protocol for creating them is well-documented and standardized – and anyone can create one for free. When you couple far-and-wide distribution of codes with natively integrated scanners, I think there’s a real opportunity for these to come back in a big way.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

If scanning functionality is built into the camera, I can see QR codes becoming more popular. However, to become really successful, they need to move beyond “scan this for an offer” and encompass more serious functions.

Mike Templeton
Guest

I agree completely about the experience. Accessing QR codes was always clunky before, but it was the even more terrible accompanying marketing experiences that drove their downfall. This was a result of poor experience design; you can’t blame QR codes for that.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

The key to QR success is twofold: ease of use and value add.

QR coupons may add some value add in terms of a discount, but that value rapidly diminishes if the consumer has to down load another app and then fiddle with multiple steps to redeem the coupon.

QR code is much more successful in Asia where consumers use the QR code seamlessly in both their shopping journey, and purchases. A case study in QR code best practices is Home Plus in Korea where the “stores” have no products. Consumers scan the QR codes of photos of products on subway malls and kiosks to do everything from research, to seamlessly purchase products and arrange home delivery.

Mike Templeton
Guest

You’ve outlined both necessary components exactly. Without immediate relevant value, there’s no hook for consumers to engage. And if you can convince them to scan, the experience has to be effortless. Anything less will get tossed aside and ignored in every subsequent opportunity.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
1 year 9 months ago

I don’t think we’ll be scanning QR codes as we know them now, but I do think we will be scanning AR codes that are personalized to a brand’s campaign or logo.

As long as the value proposition is there, (such as a valuable discount) and the process to scan the code isn’t too clunky, people will use them.

Sky Rota
BrainTrust
1 year 9 months ago

I only use one to go to the movies. I buy reserved seating movie tickets from my phone and they email my mom the QR code because I don’t really use email and don’t even get it on my phone. My mom takes a screen shot of the code and texts to me. Now if they could just text me the code directly that would be great. Oh, and I don’t want an app for it either, just like I don’t want to create an account. Text us the code after our purchase and you have a better chance of everyone using it. Make life simple for everyone and they will be glad to use them.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

QR codes could easily become an idea whose time will never come. Of course — as with all technologies — the Devil is in the details, in this case functionality and timing. If there aren’t improvements in the basic way QR codes work, they won’t be back for all the reasons they failed in the first place. Or, if a more direct connection/activation technology reaches the market, QR codes will stay buried in the heap of hi-tech also rans. This isn’t to say it isn’t possible that a revolution in QR coding couldn’t stage a comeback, but — at least at this point — it’s doubtful.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

People want to know more about the ingredients they consume than what is printed on the food package. So the grocery industry launched the Smart Label, which is a QR code. Over the last 2 years, food makers put Smart Labels on some 15,000 packages. Anecdotally, consumers have not been scanning these QR codes, either because they were unaware of what they were, or they didn’t care to scan.

The food industry reportedly will launch a major education campaign this year to make shoppers aware of these Smart Labels and to encourage their use. If successful, the QR code will gain in popularity.

Mike Templeton
Guest

Putting aside existing use cases like airline tickets and Apple Wallet passes, QR codes absolutely need a mass adoption event in order to prove their worth. If we expect consumers to exert the energy to engage with QR codes, the value must be clear and the experience must be frictionless. The food industry’s campaign with Smart Label – both with the introduction of on-pack codes and their education iniatitive – could be that event that QR codes need.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
1 year 9 months ago

QR codes are already quite successful — but not the way the hype around them suggested. Every Fandango ticket and concert or airline e-ticket I use is validated via a QR code on my phone.

Coupon redemption at the store is an identical use, and they make sense there.

In other words, QR codes are quite successful when they appear on your phone and are scanned to validate a purchase or coupon.

What has never worked (all the way back to the silly cat shaped barcode scanner of massive investment failure) is as something you scan into your phone to get, for example, a website address. It’s always been far, far easier to just type it in.

Why? Consumer value. Is it worth the hassle? An apart from a very few applications, it’s far easier to type than fight the QR hassle.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

When QR codes first came out, while easy to use, they were still used by people considered to be “early adopters.” Even though they were somewhat popular, they still weren’t as mainstream as some retailers had hoped. Today, the use of the mobile phone for much more than a phone makes functions like QR codes more popular. So, first we have to get the customer to know how to access and take advantage of the QR code. That’s pretty easy. The bigger issue is why should they scan the code to begin with? What’s the incentive for them to do so? Answer those questions and you will get more customers using the QR codes, the opportunity to engage more with more customers, and building better relationships along the way.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
1 year 9 months ago

Don’t be surprised if by 2020 we look back at this discussion thread and wonder how we could have hugely understated QR Codes’ adoption and evolution into “Everything Codes” in a AR rich consumer world.

The processing power of the mobile phone combined with the unparalleled camera advancements and 5G connectivity will breathe life into these type of codes.

Dan Frechtling
BrainTrust

QR codes are a technology better suited for in-store shopping than marketing.

In China, Bingobox customers scan products’ QR codes and check out via mobile wallet. In the US, Walmart Pay users scan a QR code at the register to pay. In the US, Target customers coupon barcodes to save money at checkout.

The difference in these cases is the digital-savvy shopper is already likely to use the retailer’s app when shopping in-store. This nullifies the extra inconvenience described above in most marketing use cases.

History shows if it’s a clunky movie-poster-to-app-to-webpage novelty, consumers won’t adopt QR codes. But if they save time or money conveniently at checkout, trends show consumers adopting today’s QR code “sequel.”

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

So they’re ready for their closeup, Mr. de Mille, because someone predicted that will happen? That seems to be the only “evidence.”

Things that “should have” worked but didn’t seems to be RW’s theme for January. I’m dubbing it “8 track Syndrome” and as with the case with the former, though it’s always impossible to predict reversals of fortune (at least without understanding the initial failure), I’ll stick with the percentages and predict continued disappointment.

Ed Dunn
Guest
1 year 9 months ago

As someone who worked on QR Code use cases when they became mainstream in Japan in 2009, up to projects throughout China right now, I’m a little concerned at the dismissals of QR technology in American forums. It make no sense where 1D barcodes are widely used right now from airline tickets to tracking shipping to assert 2D codes such as QR code will not take off in retailing. The problem is, many Americans are looking at the wrong use cases for QR codes.

QR codes are cheap and disruptive, no hardware NFC, IC chip or biometric or even cash handling can compete against the cost of displaying a QR code on a screen for a customer to scan and check out.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust
QR codes here in the USA are a solution looking for a problem. We already have AI (like Bixby) where you can take a picture, play a song or TV show and get all of the information you need on a product without using any QR codes. QR codes being used in China is far from their adoption and use here in the USA. The lack in China of standardized bar codes and bar code readers in many small shops throughout China, let alone the ubiquitous use of phones (they are used for public transportation, money transferral, payments, etc.) allow for another level of information and security like QR codes to be adopted, used on a daily basis and embraced. Here in the USA, we have different POS systems, access to the online environment is faster and more robust, and email systems (WeChat in China is QR Code based), and information flows in a different way. QR codes have a long way to go before they will be adopted and embraced here in the USA.
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The technology is now where it needs to be and just like RFID, this will take time to find its role — but it will find its role.

Alice Wilson
Guest
9 months 23 days ago

Very good article, Matthew. we use QR codes a lot here in Texas for our marketing, it’s amazing how quick people get used to scanning them. One important thing I learned is to add a “call to action” with your QR code to improve your scanning rates. QR codes are like a door but without a sign, nobody will enter. I feel 2019 will be the year QR codes break through.

Henry Cazalet
Guest

It’s now 2019 and in the UK, the QR code shows no sign of hitting it big, certainly not as an on-pack marketing tool anyway.

I examined hundreds of products in my local supermarket and found only 4 QR codes. 3 of those lead to dead mobile websites!

So it seems there’ll be no return to the heady days of 2011, when QR codes were everywhere. I wrote up my findings in this article.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I said it when QR codes came out. It’ll die if you have to fire up an app to scan it and it opens another app to consume the content."
"For brands that really want mobile engagement, near field communications or emerging radio frequency (RF) interfaces are much more attractive."
"I don’t think we’ll be scanning QR codes as we know them now, but I do think we will be scanning AR codes that are personalized to a brand’s campaign."

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