QR Adoption Is NOT Sloth-Like!

By | November 9, 2012

I’m getting tired of technology pundits complaining about “slow” QR code adoption.  I just updated my report “QR Codes: What You Need to Know,” and as part of that effort, I scrapped all of the old data and scoured the industry for the most recent data on QR code adoption and use.

In the process, I found some great stuff. I also found some irritating stuff. One of the irritants came from Mashable Business, where QR codes were referred to as being adopted at “a sloth-like pace.

Although the concept is smart, is it worth the effort, especially given the sloth-like pace QR codes have been adopted in the U.S. and other western countries? About 14 million U.S. cellphone owners — about 4.5% of the country’s population — scanned a QR code last month, according to comScore. [1]

Sloth-like pace? That’s funny because I see QR codes everywhere — from electronics to watermelons. It seems that I cannot go a single day without tripping over one, and I’m not out and about much because I seem to live in my home office. The irony is that, before reading that post, I had just written these paragraphs in the QR code report:

In December of 2011, 20% of smartphone users in the United States (which amount to about 42% to 53% of all U.S. mobile phone subscribers depending on whose data you use) had scanned a QR code.  (ComScore MobiLens April 2012)

In addition, Nellymoser found that readers of national magazines scan QR codes, Microsoft Tags, digital watermarks and other mobile action codes at an average rate of 6.4%. This compares to 4.4% for direct mail, according to the Direct Marketing Association. [2]

So depending on which data you use, QR code scanning is either at pace or above that of direct mail response rates overall. That’s not exactly sloth-like.

The other irony is that I clicked through the Mashable author’s link to that data, and while she says “last month,” what she really means is a year and one month ago — her write-up was posted on Mashable in July 2012, but the comScore data she cites is from June 2011. So comparing her June 2011 comScore data to the more recent comScore data, the percentage of consumers who have scanned QR codes has risen from 4.5% of the U.S. population to 20% of smartphone users (or roughly 10% of the U.S. population) in just about a year.

Even going back to the June 2011 numbers, that’s still not a bad percentage. I think people forget that QR codes are just a response mechanism like any other. I haven’t mailed in a BRE or called an 800 number in years. That doesn’t mean those response mechanisms don’t work. They just aren’t the right response mechanisms for me. Or, um, maybe I’m just not interest in the product.

After being eyeball deep in QR and other 2d code data this week, I can assure this Mashable author that, regardless of which year’s data she is using, mobile barcodes are part of the fabric both of marketing and consumer lives.  If readers are scanning them at rates equal to or higher than the average direct mail piece, in my book, that’s pretty darn good.

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10 thoughts on “QR Adoption Is NOT Sloth-Like!

  1. Robert

    Great article Heidi, thanks for taking the time to research and write it so we can share with others who don’t quite understand yet the power and the profit in QR Code technology.

  2. Paul J Gardner

    You lost me at the data mashup – “…from 4.5% to 20% in just about a year.”

    This 4-5x increase is imaginary – it simply didn’t happen.

    You compared two stats that don’t match – 4.5% of the US population (2011) to 20% of US smartphone users (2012). This represents not a 4-5x increase, but a sloth-like 1.8x.

    Clearly QR codes have value today, and that may increase over time. But they’re far from becoming part of the “fabric… of… consumers lives”.

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Hi, Paul. Thanks for the observation — 4.5% of cellphone users overall to 20% of smartphone users according to different surveys from comScore. Even so, I’m not sure where you’re getting 1.8%. If smartphone users are 42-53% of the population (although, granted, it was on the lower side in December 2011), then that’s still 10% of the population scanning QR codes. That still double the percentage cited by comScore in June 2011. Where are you getting 1.8%?

  4. Mark Robinson

    Great article as always. Adoption of QR codes has been labelled by many as interesting technology. Marketers have perhaps thought of it as a “Silver Bullet” with which to measure click through rates and open rates for their campaigns.

    The fact is they (QR code) are everywhere. Usage, implementation and adoption into marketing campaigns has grown significantly over the past 24 months. Sloth-Like is not a phrase I would use. I say keep them coming.

    In fact Mashable published an article on Rock the Vote where a T shirt with a QR code enabled smart phone users to register to vote. The idea is simple: Put the t-shirt on, and you automatically become a mobile hotspot for voter registration.


    Sloth-Like I don’t think so.

  5. Paul J Gardner

    Heidi – Not 1.8%… Rather I’m suggesting the year-over-year increase was 1.8 times, not the 4-5 fold increase that the statistics seem to indicate.

  6. Maggie Young

    I think the writer forgot to investigate other uses for QR codes, such as mobile payments. With Starbucks, one of the largest chains in the world, leading the way in encouraging mobile payments, QR code adoption rates are only promising to increase at a cheetah-like pace. Here’s the article: QR codes and mobile payments

  7. Antony Calo

    Heidi Dont worry about Paul he is a closet QR hater.
    He wants to believe he just rightly needs convincing.
    He is just an Agnostic of print etc.
    As you say its growing fast.
    200% of 1 is only 2 but 200% of 2 is 4 and so on….One day…

  8. Joe Manos

    Heide – great work as always!

    You are spot on with QR Codes. They aren’t going away any time soon and the adoption of the codes is increasing at a very rapid pace as you have pointed out.

    Our customer base is using them in most of their customer campaigns and they are very personalized campaigns driving the prospects to very relevant pages and offers.

    As stated in these discussions previously – it is simply a response channel that must be leveraged using the best practice methodologies for effective marketing outcomes!

    When you use them correctly they are very effective. One campaign I recently viewed by our customer had a 22% response level with a very high conversion level to relevant sales opportunities.

    Keep up the great work you are doing you are right on target.

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