QR Codes Come Into Their Own Thanks to the Pandemic
When was the last time you used a QR code? For two decades of struggling to gain traction and considered a niche technology, QR codes have gained a new lease on life. In response to COVID-19, social distancing, and contactless and cash-free interactions, many businesses are taking a second look at QR codes.
Had You Forgotten About QR codes?
Created in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota, QR codes (short for “Quick Response” Codes), were used as a way to keep their car inventory organized, as a replacement for barcodes. The reason why is that barcodes store their information in one-dimensional lines representing up to 80 characters of data. QR codes, which store information in a two-dimensional field of squares, can hold about 100 times more data.
For the next decade, QR codes were primarily used for industrial applications, but with the adoption of smartphones, advertisers realized that QR codes could increase user engagement.
Naturally, they put QR codes on nearly everything. QR codes were found on packaging, magazines, food containers, TV commercials, and even on billboards 100 feet off the ground. QR codes were literally on nearly every surface. Unfortunately, in 2010, the world wasn’t all that ready to adopt them.
In 2010, most websites weren’t mobile compliant, which meant in some cases the website was pretty much unusable on a smartphone, which ironically was the primary way a QR code could be used. Moreover, Wi-Fi and mobile data connections weren’t as reliable, or available. To top it all off, the average person didn’t really know what to do when faced with a QR code. They were everywhere, but only a fringe of users were using them.
There’s little wonder that QR codes became a forgotten technology in the mind of the public.
Then, the pandemic happened.
Why QR Codes Are Having a Renaissance
With social distancing, the desire for contactless interactions has reached an all-time high. This resulted in no one wanting to touch anything, let alone communal objects, such as restaurant menus and other shared items. Due to the intimate nature of their business, restaurants were one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and restaurants needed to find ways to serve their customers in a manner they would be comfortable with. Hence the return to a nearly (for consumer use) forgotten technology, QR codes.
To accommodate customers who were uncomfortable returning to restaurants, many restaurants replaced paper menus with QR codes, giving customers access to menus without physically handling them. While the restaurant industry played a large part in the resurgence of QR codes, QR codes can be used by various businesses for a variety of tasks.
Recently, PayPal and Venmo introduced QR Code touch-free payment technology in CVS Pharmacy stores. As Mark Britto, Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer of PayPal, noted, "In the midst of COVID-19, we have seen an incredible acceleration of digital payments and touch-free payments." While many may feel that QR codes are a niche fad, which they were two decades ago, as larger organizations adopt them, QR codes are part of the new normal or, at this point, just normal.
Other Ways To Use a QR Code
The benefit of QR codes is that you can store a little bit of information within the code, reducing the need for physical documents. While putting a QR code on billboards indicates a misunderstanding of the technology, there are ways to use QR codes to their full potential as a tool for communication. For example, one application could put a QR code next to an art exhibit, and when scanned, the guest is shown a video explaining what the exhibit is about.
This process can increase productivity and reduce expenses because the museum no longer has to provide a multi-media presentation in-house or have staff explain the exhibit. Since most people have smartphones, a QR code can essentially allow them to operate as a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) curator.
The codes themselves don’t typically contain files or much raw data—although you can have a QR code work as a contact entry, a sort of business card that adds a contact to a person’s phone. Instead, a QR code typically serves as a link to information stored on your website (or a link to any other website).
For example, a QR code can lead people to your Facebook page, or provide a direct link to leave a review for your business on Google.
The importance, however, is context. Nobody is going to scan a QR code for no reason. However, if you give them incentive, or tell them why, and give them instructions for scanning it, there’s a much better chance it will be used.
The Future is Digital
As a response to the pandemic, the use of digital wallets such as Apple, Samsung, and Google Pay has been growing. The desire for contactless transactions has propelled this technology to the forefront. While there is competition between the NFC and QR codes to tender payment, it’s clear where the momentum lies.
Speaking of NFC (which is short for Near-Field Communication), although this technology has been around for a long time, it’s likely to see a much wider range of use over time, like the QR code. Right now, many retailers support it, and some airlines use it at the terminal, but it has the same potential as the QR code.
An NFC chip or sticker typically costs around 30 cents, and less if you buy them in bulk. You can store data on these little stickers—not a lot of data, but enough to store a URL or product identification number or contact information on them. Holding a smartphone against a sticker will read the data on the chip and take you to that URL.
The problem that NFC chips will have is similar to the QR code—nobody will know what to do with them. NFC chips are even more inconspicuous, as they can look like anything. Some chips are little plastic “coins” while others are little round white stickers. A business could adhere them to an object or put them on a display case with instructions to hold your phone against them, but like QR codes, context will be needed in order to get users to even notice them.
Is Your Business Struggling to Keep Up?
During these uncertain times, it would be unusual for a business not to feel unsteady or unsure if they are doing the right things to remain profitable. It seems that for every technological advancement, some company appears to lose ground and get left behind.
We’re here to help. Call 607.433.2200 today to schedule an appointment. We can show you how technology can advance your business goals and help you take the lead ahead of your competitors.