What are QR Codes?
If you’ve seen these little boxes with dots inside of them that look like a barcode dropped acid and thought, ‘What is that for?!’…you’re not alone!
Those aren’t new-age design elements, they are QR codes. For simplicity’s sake, QR stands for Quick Response and you point a device at the code and it opens a webpage. The premise was really simple initially: Want to know more about a product or place and don’t want to take all the time to type a long URL? Scan this thing and it opens automatically.
Initially invented in 1994 based on the vision to revolutionize the bridge between the physical world and the digital consumer, QR codes didn’t get their hayday until 2010. That is when marketers (dirty dirty marketers) got wind of this cheap technology and thought of all the ways they could exploit consumers [insert sinister greasy marketer rubbing his hands together here]. They started popping up on packaging, posters storefronts, billboards, and yeah, even tattoos.
But there was a problem:
Like the promise and demise of Segways, it took too much work for consumers. If you wanted to scan a QR code, you needed a unique app—which meant it was just easier to just type in the website. Within a few years, the QR code was all but abandoned.
So…Are They Dead?
Not everything that is alive has always been that way.
Ever heard of a company called Nintendo? Well they started off as a failure in the Famicom. Then a flop with the Atari. Then lukewarm reception with the Nintendo NES…that was until a year after launch when Mario Brothers was created.
Ever heard of the Disney Dark Ages? From when Walt himself died in 1966 until the late 80s, it was pretty much junk…that was until a tiny little thing called The Little Mermaid!
The same story can be said for Poloroid, Apple, Wheaties, Amazon, bubble wrap, and WD-40 (in fact, the “40” represents the 40th attempt to make a degreaser—see: https://www.wd40.com/history/).
QR codes were slowly, painfully, and very visibly dying.
They disappeared from packaging, faded in windows, and were edited out of magazines.
Then everything changed.
In June of 2017, the news was leaked that QR codes would have a chance for rebirth. It was announced that the newest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 11, would enable people to scan a QR code by just pointing their camera at it (see: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/05/the-iphones-camera-app-can-now-read-qr-codes/)!
The biggest hurdle of a clunky and non-user friendly experience was solved. No more third-party apps needed.
Over the next couple of years, other phones have come on the scene and followed suit. Google’s Pixel, Lenovo’s Notes, Motorola (yeah, they’re still around), Samsung Galaxy’s, and (depending on today’s trade wars) Huawei all have direct camera to QR code integrations. Apps also took notice. Chat tools like WeChat and Snapchat, browsers like Opera, and utilities like Google Now all allow for the same functionality with their in-app camera usage.
There are flaws, but basically, you point your camera at an item with a QR code on it, it waits a couple seconds to make sure you aren’t taking a picture, and then it will pop up with a link that you can click on.
The chart below shows the flat growth usage until 2017 and the explosive growth in North America first, and then Europe and LatAm as iOS 11 rolled out.
To be totally honest, I was a bit skeptical at first as well. Some quick context: I run a customer experience platform called Ovation and we used iPad kiosk with smiley faces to measure customer satisfaction for our clients. We heard of the initial roll out of the iOS 11 feature and tiptoed into a tepid test of this once-forgotten technology.
Results: While it was a slow start, it now accounts for half of all our surveys taken.
Ok, I’m convinced I should TRY it…but How?
Step 1: Have a plan. Why should someone care to scan your QR code? What will it get them and why is it important? If you are just trying to get people to your website while they’re in your store…is there a point?
Ideas to utilize QR codes could be to measure customer experience, deliver coupons, boost app downloads, show videos, re-order online, increase likes on social media, leave reviews, etc. etc. etc.
Step 2: Make a QR Code. It is pretty easy to do…just type in “free QR code generator” into Google, and bam. Make sure it is a simple one that doesn’t have a paid plan. If it is “dynamic” (meaning that you can change what it points to after you create it), chances are it will eventually be paid after a free trial.
Step 3: Design it well. Wherever you are printing it, make sure it is big enough to work. Test it first. Some types of materials (too shiny, too rough, too dirty) will not scan. Also make sure the background is light—if it has a dark background so that the camera can’t make out the edges of the QR code, it won’t scan.
Step 4: Call it out. Saying something like “Point Your Camera here!” has helped us improve the usage, since a lot of people don’t know their camera can scan QR codes.
Step 5: Have a backup. Put a phone number to text, the link to the website it is opening or something else so that if someone wants to scan it and they have a not-as-smart phone, they won’t be too mad.
Can You Help Me, Zack?
Hopefully this has been helpful and you have some ideas on how to use QR codes for your business. While we don’t help design QR codes, we can help you grow your business. We use tools (such as iPad kiosks, QR codes, texting, and loyalty) to measure customer satisfaction and then create a tailored experience proven to increase loyalty, improve online reputation, and win back unhappy customers.
Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.