Quick Response (QR) codes have become little more than a perfunctory addition to advertisement posters, but electronic bill payment provider BPAY aims to resuscitate the technology and actually make it a useful tool, according to the company's general manager of business services, Keith Brown.
QR codes have been widely used on printed ads around shopping malls and sometimes even magazines. People can scan the code with their smartphone cameras coupled with a QR code-reader app. The code then prompts the phone to perform a certain function, which usually involves loading a specific website.
But the prevalence of QR codes is not a result of customer demand, according to Spire Research CEO Leon Perera.
"[It's] partly because they symbolize technological sophistication, not because most customers are actually using them," Perera told ZDNet last month.
BPAY, which has plans to introduce QR codes on printed bills, agreed that some companies have been abusing the use of QR codes by poorly executing the technology.
"To date, QR codes have been used mainly for marketing purposes, you scan the code and it takes you to a website," Brown told ZDNet. "A lot of times, it links to a website that is not mobile optimised or won't load, and people get disappointed.
"Some organisations do it really well, while others just throw it on a poster or an advertisement that takes users to a site that is not mobile optimised, and I don't see the benefit of that."
BPAY intends to make QR codes practical, rather than just a decorative piece of technology.
"We're making QR codes useful, for a specific purpose, and enabling people to do something really useful with the information on their paper bill or electronic bill," Brown said.
He noted that payment organisations around the world, including the US's electronic payments association NACHA, are also looking at QR codes for bill payment purposes.
"It shows that, globally, QR codes aren't a fad," Brown said. "It's something that has real useability, and I think we'll see more take up of it in the coming months or years."
Australians are fervently snapping up mobile devices and BPAY understands that it needs to focus on how to make its bill payment services mobile-friendly — as does its large network of payment partners, which consists of most, if not all the large utility providers and telcos in the country.
QR code is part of BPAY's strategy to cater to the needs of customers, Brown said. It weaves into its BPAY View service, a digital mailbox for bills that integrates with the online and mobile banking portals or apps of participating financial institutions, he said.
"We have financial institutions already offering BPAY View on the mobile, and we're making it easier with the introduction of QR codes," Brown said. "That gives our payment partners the ability to put QR codes on a bill and for customers to either scan that and make a BPAY bill payment, or send them to register for BPAY View straight off the paper bill with a single-click registration process."
The company has developed a standard so that payment partners can integrate QR codes on the bills they issue to customers.
"It takes a while to get it on their technology roadmaps, but we have seen a high level of interest from these partners," Brown said. "We expect both the biller and financial institutions to roll out those QR codes in early 2013.
Digital mailbox competition
BPAY has been in the digital mailbox business for over a decade, and has recently witnessed new entrants joining the market.
Both Australia Post and Digital Post, which were locked in a bitter court battle over the latter's trading name, have recently launched their digital mailbox service for electronic bills.
Brown said that he welcomed the new competition, since it will bring more publicity to the whole digital mailbox and e-billing concept.
"We see it in the first instance as an opportunity to raise the awareness for electronic bill presentment," he said.
BPAY is confident that it will not lose out to the new players since it has integration with online and mobile banking portals as a key differentiator.
"We can be accessed within internet banking websites or apps," Brown said. "Consumers are comfortable with that environment."