Compelling, dynamic and useful experiences will be critical for QR codes’ widespread adoption. The codes, after all, are just the portal.
To elicit a chuckle from a technology maven, mention QR codes. In the eyes of many, the iconic black and white squares, with their pixely patterns, are comic relics from the internet’s early days, a good but clumsy idea that never caught on.
But people of that opinion might want to check their rear-view mirrors: QR codes are roaring back to relevance.
QR, you may remember, stands for quick response. The codes are intended to instantly connect a mobile device to some kind of detailed information or experience. During the early 2000s, they were everywhere – on labels, in ads, on printed material and more. Yet most consumers never used them. Doing so required a special app for reading them. Achieving the proper light and angle for connection was challenging. And if you succeeded, the pay-off was often a static URL that you could have typed in yourself.
But now, it seems, QR codes were simply ahead of their time. The Economist reports that in 2016, $1.6 trillion in mobile payments were made via QR in Asia. In China, 890m monthly WeChat users rely on QR to make payments, identify other users, and locate places and products. And in the US and Europe, Snapchat users are scanning about 8m QR-enabled Snapcodes a day.
QR codes owe their surprising second life to three factors.
1. They can deliver much more than just a website. Although their potential wasn’t realised early on, there is fundamental value in QR codes’ capacity to connect users to more specific and detailed information. With an exploding need for one-to-one connection, like that employed by mobile pay apps and the countless nodes in the emerging Internet of Things, QR is a low-cost way to make it happen .
2. They are now much easier to use. This is probably the biggest reason for the resurrection. Apple recently made QR reading native from the camera in iOS 11 and Android is expected to follow suit. This means that downloading a QR code reader app is no longer required. Consumers can simply point their cameras and the experience is triggered. Using your camera is much more relevant than an instruction to ‘scan this barcode’.
3. QR-triggered experiences are increasingly rich. The content pay-off in QR’s early days was too often static, boring and nothing you couldn’t have achieved in an easier way. Today, QR delivers much more, including customer reviews, rich digital content, product provenance and mobile self-checkout. Combined with other technologies such as RFID and based on specific context such as geolocation, a user’s preferences or a particular item for sale, those experiences can also be highly personalised.
This last point is the key to QR codes maintaining their new momentum. Compelling, dynamic and useful experiences will be critical for QR’s widespread adoption. The codes, after all, are just the portal. Whether brands and retailers deliver on their promise remains to be seen, but there is no question that, for a solution almost considered obsolete, QR codes are, for now, getting a second life as a powerful and cost-efficient link in our always-connected, increasingly personalised world.