QR codes under threat from new tech

QR codes under threat from new tech

Summary: Quick Response (QR) codes need to avoid being passed off as a fad, and be more strategically used to engage customers as newer technologies threaten to erode its relevance.


Quick Response (QR) codes need to be better used with a clear strategy in mind, and not be used for the sake of doing so. Badly implemented QR code campaigns may erode consumer interest, and this may prove detrimental given the emerging rival technologies entering the market.

According to Leon Perera, CEO of Spire Research, QR codes are being used only by a minority of the customers who see them.

"These codes have gained a foothold in print ads, posters, and so on--partly because they symbolize technological sophistication, not because most customers are actually using them," Perera said.

In order to go beyond being the latest fad, QR codes will need to connect users to more information about the brand or product, and the content should entertain and resonate with bored readers and commuters.

Agreeing, Mike Wehrs, CEO and president of mobile engagement firm ScanLife, pointed out that with thousands of new codes being published, there were bound to be some very bad examples which will taint the experience for everyone.

Among the key things to avoid when implementing QR codes are placing them in locations with poor data service, such as in subways, and making them so dense or small that they are unreadable, he added.

"Just because you can place a code on something, doesn’t mean you should!" said Wehrs.

train qr
Dubious use of QR code on poster across train tracks (Credit: wtfqrcodes.com via @wizzcashloans)

Effective use of QR codes
According to the executive, the main elements to a successful QR code campaign are strategy, content, and analytics. Companies need to first decide what the consumer would want from a code, and should not proceed if they cannot think of a reason, he said.

Assuming there is a reason, they should deliver an experience that is simple, mobile-optimized, and leads them to the next step in your process. For example, this could range from a sweepstakes entry to grow a database, a video demonstration to close a sale, or a social connection, he elaborated.

Finally, the effective use of QR codes should include mechanisms to monitor traffic to get detailed analytics and learn how people are engaging with your media, said Wehrs.

In an example of a successful campaign, Singapore pub Harry's Bar said it managed to leverage QR codes to double its beer sales.

The bar launched a campaign in August during its designated happy hour called 'Bottle Message'. Customers would get a QR code tag with each bottle of beer they bought. Using an app, they could scan the tag, key in an anonymous message and then send the tag on another bottle to someone they fancied. The recipient, upon scanning the tag, would be able to enter a virtual chatroom via the app with the sender.

Other creative examples include U.K. retailer Tesco which launched virtual supermarket shelves in South Korea's subway stations last year, and PayPal which trialed a similar concept on billboards in Singapore in February this year.

Virtual supermarket shelves at a subway station in South Korea. While waiting for the train, commuters can browse and scan the QR codes of products which will later be delivered to their homes (source: Tesco)

QR codes relevance under threat
Despite the rising adoption of smartphones that enable QR codes to be read, the technology is likely to face increasing obstacles in the future.

New and more promising technologies will erode the position of QR codes over time, pointed out Perera. Some of these potential challengers include augmented reality, near-field communications and mobile visual search, as exemplified by products like Google Goggles, Blippar and Aurasma, he said.

Agreeing, Wehrs said there could be some overlap as these other channels came into play.

However, he remained optimistic QR codes are "here to stay" for now because they are very easy to implement, inexpensive, and most importantly, they are openly available to millions of people.

He noted there have also been spinoffs from QR codes to other formats such as Micro EZcodes, which are small enough to be printed under a bottle cap.

"You don’t have to download a specific app to read a specific image. It's an open ecosystem which has made it much easier for people to use. That is what is most important right now," Wehrs said.

Topics: Mobility, E-Commerce, Emerging Tech, Smartphones


Loves caption contests, leisurely strolls along supermarket aisles and watching How It's Made. Ryan has covered finance, politics, tech and sports for TV, radio and print. He is also co-author of best seller "Profit from the Panic". Ryan is an editor at ZDNet's Asia/Singapore office.

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  • The QR Code is not going anywhere BUT people have think before using.

    Great article with a lot of strong and valid points. The QR Code is a marketing tool. Like every tool it has to be used correctly. I do think the QR COde is here to stay but in order to make it more effective companies must treat it like a tool and not like some magic wand that will automatically make customer's engage.
    We in the West have witnessed stores like Tesco and Emart use QR Codes to boost sales and make shoppers lives easier. There are over 6 billion mobile phone subscribers and the QR Code is a bridge that can lead people from offline to online, it's not going anywhere so fast.
    To blame the QR Code is like blaming a car that doesn't move when nobody bothered filling her up with gas.
    There is another detail that should change when encouraging people to interact using their mobile phone. The QR Code should be designed more creatively. Just like people do not like talking to answering machines they don't like interacting with something that looks like it jumped out of a space invaders game.
    The unappealing and uncommunicative appearance of the QR Code is definitely a downer.
    A company called Visualead has developed a technology that allows for any design itself to be given the power of the QR without ruining the design or the scannability of the QR.
    I think they might just change your opinion of the effectiveness of the Visual QR Code
  • Custom QR Codes increase effectiveness

    Great article with spot on points! We think the effectiveness of QR Codes (and thus further adoption) is greatly increased ny using custom QR Codes. For example, a call to action (e.g. Scan for Video), unique shape and color scheme that matches a business help potential customers notice a QR Code and tells them what they gey when they scan it. There is a lot of misinformation out there on how to properly customize QR Codes so they still scan which is why we work hard to educate people on this important point. Articles like this one go a long way to get out the right information. THANKS. LegitQR.com
  • One of the most important things;

    If you modify the Qr codes, you have to use a high level of error correction (higher percentage, better correction). While it makes the code larger (more pixels, and preferably physically larger so the camera still can focus), it enables more visual modification of it while it still can be scanned.
  • QR Code menus

    I've been messing around with QR Codes a lot recently. I think even though new tech is coming along that already makes QR codes seem irrelevant, now that QR codes are being plastered all over everything I think we'll finally see an increased usage of them. At Standing Sushi Bar we're changing the menus to be all text - and then adding a QR code which allows the diner to scan it and be navigated to a web page with all the photos of food listed.
  • QR Is a Fad

    QR Codes are - by definition - a Fad.
    1. A thing that becomes very popular in a short amount of time, and then is forgotten at about the same speed.
    2. Something that will become HUGE then fizzle into nothingness and be totally forgotten.
    3. A practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.

    My justification: I tried them for a while, but inevitably found it faster, more efficient, and more economical - from the consumer's point of view - to do things the "old" way.

    There's a reason things become "the old way"; because they've been found to work.
    • ANother reason things become "the old way"

      Because the buggywhip manufacturers can't get their minds around the new way.
  • Old ways

    Hi :)
    Hmmm, the old way was to write down or try to remember a website address and then type it into google and see if anything relevant happened to appear. People struggled with whether to write the http:// bit and are the wwws really necessary? Hmm, better to just write down the phone number and pay for the call while on hold or being transferred to another department.

    Yes, the old way is fantastic! (NOT!) Can't imagine why people might want to try something new!! Lol.

    It's only around 7 years old so it's ultra new, gimicky and geeky to most people. People say it'll never last but 7 years so far doesn't really seem such a fad!
    Regards from
    Tom :)
  • Dynamic QR is the way to go!

    A start-up in NY called Social Passport has reinvented the QR. They have linked QR codes to social networking. Merchants create incentives for customers to scan these dynamic QRs with a Social Passport App and then the merchants pre-made message is posted to the customer's facebook wall, twitter feed, etc. As they put it, market to one market to many. Customers get deals, loyalty punches, contest entries and merchants drive foot traffic, increase social media marketing, and can use the backend analytics to tailor deals to specific demographics. The new dynamic QR is here to stay...

    That being said, Social Passport also utilizes NFC for their technology...