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Should we start taking QR codes seriously?

Opinion

Published by:

24 April 2018

Author: Julie Vargas

Image: The Milestone by MVRDV, Germany

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Compelling, dynamic, and useful experiences will be critical for QR’s 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 relic from the Internet’s early days, a good but clumsy idea that never quite caught on.

But people of that opinion might want to check their rearview mirrors: QR codes are are roaring back to relevance.

QR, as you may remember, stands for quick response. The codes are intended to instantly connect a mobile device to some kind of deeper information or experience. During the early 2000s, they were everywhere – on labels, in ads, on collateral, 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 payoff was often a static URL that you could have typed in yourself.

But now it appears QR codes were simply ahead of their time. In 2016, $1.6 trillion in mobile payments were made via QR in Asia. In China, 890 million monthly WeChat users rely on QR to make payments, identify other users, and locate places and products. And in the U.S. and Europe, Snapchat’s QR-enabled, Snapcodes are getting about eight million scans a day.

QR codes owe their surprising second life to three factors.

" QR codes are, for now, getting a second life as a powerful and cost-efficient link in our always connected, increasingly personalised world."

1. They can deliver much more than just a website. Though their potential wasn’t realized 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, voila—experience triggered. Using your camera is much more relevant than ‘Scan this barcode’.

3. QR-triggered experiences are increasingly rich. The content payoff in QR’s early days was too often static, boring, and nothing you couldn’t have gotten 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 like RFID and based on specific context like 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.

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