QR codes are appearing with increasing frequency in a growing range of marketing and communication activities. I’ve been paying attention to who’s using these two-dimensional barcodes and how in their marketing when I’m out and about, especially in supermarkets, taking pictures when I encounter something interesting and adding some to the QR codes in the wild group on Flickr.
Notwithstanding these great examples, QR codes are still very much early adopter territory, certainly in Europe and I suspect in the US also, even if they were ubiquitous at the 2011 SxSW Interactive conference and expo recently in Austin, Texas.
SxSW is a good indicator, though, of tech that could be imminently mainstream (Twitter being a good example).
Yet it seems to me that there’s a fundamental hurdle still to jump before QR codes realize their potential for consumers to use them easily and so for them to really enter the mainstream. That hurdle isn’t a creative one (there are plenty of good examples of using QR codes as my small selection suggests) or even a technical one: creating a QR code really is simple.
It’s more of a usability one – when you encounter a code, what do you do? How do you scan it? With your mobile device’s camera? Even if you have a device with a camera, smartphone or any other type, that doesn’t work – you need a barcode scanning app installed on your device.
[...] Perhaps the biggest obstacle to their widespread adoption is simply the fact that most people don’t own smartphones. Of those that do, they may or may not know what a QR code is or how to use it.
[...] Until QR code readers come built-in natively on a majority of smart phones and those devices are being carried around by a majority of consumers, the technology probably won’t have an enormous impact. In the meantime, they appear to be headed for ubiquity. It’s just a matter of time.
Agree with that conclusion but it may be a while until devices have such apps built-in. I can see better opportunities for marketers, such as this example from UK retailer Debenhams who recently launched a shopping app for Android devices that includes a barcode reader. (I tried it: it has problems with QR codes but works with normal barcodes – that may be fine for Debenhams but not good for promoting use of QR codes.)
Hurdles still to jump, therefore: easy for early adopters but will likely seem too high for now for your average consumer.