Dismal QR Code Use? Don’t Blame the Code!

By | May 31, 2013

While U.S. consumers are increasingly using various online research channels to research their purchases, QR Codes are not one of them. This, according to a study conducted by Radius Global Market Research (GMR).

  • When asked about current experiences with QR Codes, only 12% of consumers said they had scanned QR Codes for product information.
  • The percentage of consumers who plan to use QR Codes in the future was also 12%.

Does this confirm naysayers’ views that QR Codes are a passing fad? Absolutely not. Don’t be misled!

I have said many times before, the problem is not that people are not interested in using QR Codes. The problem is that marketers aren’t using QR Codes to send people anywhere worth going. It’s not rocket science. If every time I scan a QR Code, I get sent to the corporate website where there is nothing of value to me, I’m going to stop scanning QR Codes.

If you touch a fiery stove burner enough times, you’ll stop touching it. It’s not the fault of the stove.

QR Codes could be replaced by AR, NFC, or some other technology of the future (the hypothetical replacement for QR Codes being heralded by many QR Code naysayers), but those technologies won’t “fix” the problem because they still have the same issue of what’s on the back end. In fact, the back end of AR and other technologies is even more challenging to produce well, so if marketers can’t get it together with relatively mobile-optimized websites with information relevant to the product in hand, it’s unlikely that they’ll do better with something more complex.

As a PSP, the challenge faced by customers should be relatively simple to address. If you see a QR Code on a direct mailer, product packaging, or anything else you are being asked to print, ask the question, “Why is this code here? What is it supposed to accomplish? Where does it take people? What value will they get out of it?”

Something that simple could make the difference between the consumer scanning a QR Code in the future . . . or not.


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7 thoughts on “Dismal QR Code Use? Don’t Blame the Code!

  1. Gina Danner

    You are dead on sister. I have clients regularly who think they’ve done a rock star job of adding a QR code to their collateral. Out of habit I pull out my phone, scan the code and then walk them through the experience. At that point they are either embarrased or they are confused. “You mean that is what they are seeing. I don’t like that.” OR “I don’t get what’s wrong. It’s taking them to my website.” Which is often poor in itself, but that is for another post.

    The key to great QR code use is to give people a real reason to scan AND then capture the right amount of data. When doing direct mail we almost insist on making that QR code personalized so that we know WHO is going or how many times they are sharing the experience.

  2. David Greenburg

    I hate to play devil’s advocate, but I still think it is just a fad, partly for the reasons you mention.

    People don’t know how to use them well, and you can still type into Google on a smartphone to find what you are looking for. Plus, you have to add an app to read them, and they don’t all work great.

    Frankly I have better use for bar code readers to check prices and products on Amazon. I have saved money and made wiser purchasing decisions by using bar code readers.

  3. Andrew Perry-Smith

    Research already shows that consumers who have a poor mobile experience (viewing a desktop website on a cellphone screen) not only fail to engage with what they are viewing but actually develop a negative view of the associated brand. Whether you are using QR codes or more recent and secure platforms like AR and digital watermarking, linking to a standard website is nearly always poor use of good technology. It is now cheaper and simpler to create relevant, mobile optimised content than ever before (it doesn’t have to be a complex AR experience), so even a little bit of effort and resource can deliver more consumer engagement and higher response rates.

  4. Joe Manos

    Heidi, great post and Gina great add on comments.

    Heidi, one of the fundamental problems with QR Codes is many service providers download a free Code generator and start producing work for their customers.

    Their sites aren’t optimized for phones (all types) they don’t have tight marketing offers and simple navigation of the site. They also neglect to leverage all of the mobile best practices we have been discussing for how long?

    If a service provider is moving into this space, they first better have the right technology, leverage all of the mobile marketing best practices and when in doubt – find a partner that can help them.

    There are many successful programs out there and they are growing. Unfortunately there are also many poor programs as well.

  5. Rob Trube

    Heidi – I am going to agree with what everyone else said.

    The real challenge resides in the fact that the VAST majority of people still do not know what QR Codes are. Most have no idea that they need a reader, or what reader they should get.

    Throw into the mix that the clients also try and put them in the most inappropriate places. We had a prospective client that came to us complaining about QR Codes and that they tried them and got no leads at all. Where were the QR Codes – on a billboard – on the highway! Really!?

    There are several companies that are beginning to help the “cause” of QR codes and make them more mainstream. The most notable is Best Buy. They have QR codes on all their products. Ford is also using them in their showrooms.

    Companies/brands use to put the “need a reader” note, but have stopped – which is too bad. Granted the real estate on a print piece is valuable…but if they can’t do anything then the real estate for the QR Code was wasted too.

    Companies also need to put the URL of the code beneath / near it as well.

    My last complaint / piece of advice is to think about where the code will be scanned, and whether the page will or target requires a higher data bandwidth. We did a project with an NHL team, and they had QR Codes pointing to videos on YouTube. Great – except the fact that the arena did not have WiFi, and the videos were very slow to load, if they loaded at all…

    It all comes down to planning, which as we all know is not a strong suit of the creative marketing professionals we all deal with (at least not most of them anyway…).

  6. Rob Trube

    As a quick note – we did not create the QR Codes for the NHL team. We introduced the concept of QR codes to them, did a couple of print projects, but not the QR codes…. We would have not advised them to do the video thing based on the environment….

  7. Heath Cajandig

    People are becoming more and more engaged and collaborative in regard to how they evaluate a purchase or service. They don’t want to be taken to the product website, they want to see reviews, feedback, comparisons and other information from people. How might a QR code facilitate that? This is a big question to be considered and it isn’t about the code but more around the destination.

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