QR codes are stupid and nobody uses them.
That’s the conventional wisdom among many in the marketing industry.
Technologists have been pushing the use of QR codes for years, often citing their prevalence in markets like Japan as evidence that they’ll be huge in the western world soon as well.
Critics point out that QR codes rose to prominence in Japan when feature phones were the only option and their popularity was based on the ability to avoid typing in URLs. Smartphones make it easy to type URLs and therefore QR codes are not necessary here and won’t catch on.
But There’s More to the Story
14 million Americans scanned QR codes in June 2011, according to comScore’s MobiLens service.
And AT&T has been preloading barcode readers on all of their Android smartphones since June, currently encompassing an audience of 5 million users, about 30% of whom use the application. As time crawls on these pre-installed readers will reach 25 million AT&T customers or more, with new smartphones being sold every day.
And More Users Means More Opportunities for Marketers
You’ve heard this before, but we can look to the east for a hint at how QR codes can enhance marketing in a meaningful way.
For example, South Korean grocery chain Tesco aided busy professionals by creating a supermarket in subway stations. Products were portrayed along a wall, where shoppers could scan codes for the products they wanted to purchase and complete the transaction on their phones. Then the groceries were delivered to them at home.
This was a great effort because it used barcodes to make life easier for users by delivering a focused experience that was relevant to the place they were. And it was worthwhile for Tesco because enough consumers had the barcode reader application and knew how to use it.
So What Is the Future of Mobile Barcodes?
Eventually, image recognition will replace barcode scanning. But not yet.
In the short term, we seem to be reaching critical mass on both consumer understanding and penetration of barcode scanning applications and in-market opportunities.
Basically, your mom is going to be scanning barcodes by the end of the year.
So marketers can begin to rely on the public to understand and use their QR codes. We’re still in a transitional stage, but with the number of people using them and the prevalence of them in the marketplace, it is safe to say that QR codes were not a flop in the west after all.
Greg Steen, 09.15.11