QR Codes and the Gender Gap

By | November 18, 2011

I recently aggregated all of the QR code demographic and usage data I could find (and am adding to it all the time), and one of the trends that surprised me is while much of the data is highly consistent — such as age demographics and usage patterns — gender is not one of them.

Depending on which company’s data you use, you’ll get a significantly different ratio between men and women in use of these codes. According to Mobio Identity Systems, a mobile payments company, for example, those scanning QR codes are overwhelmingly female (68%). According to ScanBuy, which offers its own platform for scanning and reading codes (although the data includes all 2d codes, not just its own), they are primarily male (57%).

What accounts for these differences? Yesterday, I was reading about research conducted by GfK MRI Starch looking into the effectiveness of QR codes in magazine advertising. It, too, found a gender gap, with 6% of men who noticed QR codes in the pages of magazine advertising taking out their phones and scanning them, while only 4% of women did.

In the Ad Age report, Nicole Skogg, CEO of SpyderLynk, the company behind SnapTags, pointed out that the gender difference may well reflect more about the ads themselves or their offers than a big difference between men and women. “I’d want to look at how many were targeted toward men more than women, whether the offers were more valuable to men than women,” she was reported as saying. “We’ve probably done more female-focused work, at least for magazines, and we’ve definitely seen some very high response rates.”

This is something I’ve been wondering myself. How much of the difference in the gender data has to do with how the codes are being used by various vendors? The MGH data from February 2011 was a consumer usage survey, so we can assume a relatively unbiased sample. But Mobio is a mobile payments company. It would make intuitive sense that men are more skeptical of mobile payments than women, so Mobio’s data showing more women scanning than men may have more to do with its market than preferences for or against QR codes by gender. Likewise ScanBuy. Every company has its own niche in the industry. While companies like ScanBuy will process 2d codes from multiple companies, you can assume that it will be processing more of its own codes than others. Thus, the primary markets in which it operates could affect the gender ratio.

All of which speaks to why it’s so difficult to nail down in a single set of data the demographics of those who are using QR codes. It takes a broader look at multiple sets of data, along with a good dose of context, to really get a sense for what’s going on.

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2 thoughts on “QR Codes and the Gender Gap

  1. michael jahn

    It is still too tedious to find my phone, launch the app, wiggle and wave and move my smartphone until i get a connection to a URL – only to – more often than not – discover that the fools think I must be using my webcam on my laptop since it delivered to a web page, not something optimized for my smartphone.

    Even when the there is a massive compelling reason ( something like a 50% off deal ) – it takes a lot for my Wife to dig through her purse.

  2. Tim Belfall

    Michael is correct, QR Codes are for meant for smartphones not laptop, desktop or pads, yet 9 out of 10 point to standard web sites loaded with large graphics and Flash making the experience slow, and occasionally unreadable.

    NFC tags will stop the “launch app, wiggle and wave” with a simpler “tap” and go approach, but unless advertisers start to realise that their audience is looking at a small(ish) screen then most of their efforts will go to waste.

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