The acceptance hurdles for QR codes

absolutqrQR 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.

Others are doing the same – here’s a great example from Kris Hoet on what AXA Bank is doing – and adding images and commentary on what they’re encountering.

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.

In his post How Effective Are QR Codes Anyway? at RWW the other day, John Paul Titlow nails it:

[…] 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.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Jim Morrison

    Nokia, and Blackberry phones come with QR code readers pre-installed. But your right the hurdle to overcome is the understanding of the QR code and the bridge between curiosity and the internet. I’m based in the UK and the market here is just starting to kick in, we are working with a number of Real Estate agents and ticketing event organisations who see a way of capturing interest in their particular markets. The generation of QR codes is not rocket science, we have developed a back office platform that handles campaigns and the CRM aspects of integrating the customer experience and interaction with the client. Other areas we are developing are competitions, quizzes and product sponsorships. It’s early days but it’s gathering momentum as Debenhams abd AXA has shown to be the case.

  2. James Crawford

    Neville, I agree with all you’ve said here. I also think that while QR Codes are going to go mainstream that they will soon be followed by something much slicker.

    The reason why I think this is that I’ve been doing a lot of work with a company called Hidden that work with Augmented Reality. AR used to use QR code markers to trigger the augmentation.

    Now AR can be triggered off anything, for example any image, such as a banknote or product packaging. A QR Code is not needed.

    So really the point I am trying to make is: beyond adoption of QR codes, consumers need to be prepared to scan products, artwork or anything to access content.

    Here’s a cheeky plug for a free guide to AR that Hidden launched on friday. . Although the guide doesn’t explicitly refer to the future of QR codes I think QR codes have a lot to take from AR and vice versa. I’d be interested in what you think.

  3. Oyvind Solstad

    Interesting post – and I agree that there are some obstacles ahead.

    I live in Norway, and here about 40% of all phones in the networks are smartphones now. The number is going up 1% a month.

    In 2010 50% of all phones sold were smartphones, and the trade organisation of the electronic and computer shops estimate that 70% of all phones sold in 2011 will be smartphones.

    So the challenge is not actually the phones itself. Soon everybody has a smartphone. But the use. Most people don’t have a subscription plan that lets them surf everywhere for a reasonable cost. And they haven’t installed a QR app.

    QR codes is THE way to connect print and web, and if shops like Best Buy started selling stuff with cheaper prives online if you came via a QR-code, people would be quick to learn.

    “Computer. Online price 500$, scan this code to get it for 450$.”

    Why would they do this? Because you then can measure IF and WHEN people actually read your print advertising.

  4. Jim Morrison

    In response to James and AR, I took a look at your site and although AR is definetly a platform that has legs, I would ask the question what is the business model and who are you going after as clients, and at what cost to to them for creating an AR platform. QR codes are becoming ubiquitous and the pick up will increase as they become more main stream in the application, from my perspective, QR codes as Oyvind states are there to make the connection between paper and mobile internet an interesting experience that does not require too much thought. If QR code gives me the ability to benefit from in the case of vouchers or coupons instant gratification and a result at the end of the day, so be it. QR and AR are mutually integrated with each other. The jury is still out on the pick up of QR codes but adopted early and presented to the masses as a one stop shop to get discounted prices or offers to me is what it’s all about. The voucher/ coupon market in the UK is According to consumer experts Nielsen, in the past 12 months alone almost 10?million Britons used an online savings code. The ability to receive a voucher or coupon via my mobile phone sure beats having to download a voucher, print it out and take to the vendor to be redeemed.

    • James Crawford

      I wasn’t suggesting AR is better or worse than QR codes, I was saying that in terms of a trigger, AR has moved on from QR codes to markerless and that we as marketers should be aware too.

      Using Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) or “marker-less tracking” means that practically anything can be used as a trigger for an augmented reality experience. NFT recognises natural features in practically anything (packages, devices, structures, photos, patterns, and even the shape of the human head) and uses it as a marker to control an augmented reality experience. Source: page 7 of this:

      The point I was trying to make was, why use a QR code to trigger anything when you could scan packaging, logos or other artwork?

      Does that make sense?

  5. Jim Morrison

    Hi James I agree, what I am saying is that for a the moment QR is the 800 pound gorilla and has to run it´s course, time will tell if NFT is the next next, it probably is but for now, QR provides an instant and easy solution without a lot of education in making people undestand the why´s and wherefore´s . With QR codes you have cause and effect, scan a code get a result.



  6. Dagan Henderson

    I recently made the argument that the glory of QR codes is not the codes themselves (precisely for the reasons you’ve pointed out) but that they are the first super-simple bridge between the offline and online worlds, the cause-and-effect that Jim is talking about.

    What makes QR codes so important to pay attention to is that, finally, offline messages have the ability to drive immediate online actions. And there isn’t too much you can’t do online (you can even, for example, buy a suit!).

    QR codes will most certainly be replaced by something better, but that shouldn’t stop organizations from adopting them. After all, 95% of the logistics for supporting QR codes is really the logistics of supporting the mobile Web. And anyone making the argument that _that_ is going away had better take a serious look around.

  7. Janet Marshall

    I agree with Dagan. I think the bandwagon will roll with QR codes and that businesses will enthusiastically embrace them to drive traffic to their websites. I use the Red Laser app on my iPhone and it works well.
    Interestingly, I was looking at how to incorporate the use of QR codes into a PR campaign for a client just yesterday.

  8. Jim Morrison

    QR Codes
    “The shortest distance between curiosity and information retrieval.”

    OK I think we are all singing off the same hymn sheet, as the American’s say “the dog has legs, but will it hunt”, from our experience, we have focused on going after the low hanging fruit, vouchers and coupons, event ticketing and real estate in the UK, we found that by finding early adopters and running small trials, we were able to get our platform moving at a local level. In general we have found that the majority of companies using QR codes in marketing are being being led by major agencies, probably because their clients can afford a national campaign, the SME’s however are being ignored. This is the space we have approached and it seems to be working, by giving them the tools to run their own campaigns and to leverage their own resources, we are seeing an enthusiastic acceptance of QR Codes. to achieve this we have had to develop a CRM back office platform that integrates with the QR code generation as well as linking to Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to all of you if I can be of any help and relate to you our experiences thus far feel free to contact me.

  9. Voce Monday Morning Five | Voce Communications

    […] The acceptance hurdles for QR codes: Neville Hobson, riffing largely off a post from Read/WriteWeb, comes to many of the same conclusions I did in a post on my personal blog, that QR codes have a ton of potential. But until there’s 1) larger smartphone adoption, 2) more native and universal apps that can handle all such codes and 3) more public education about what people are supposed to do when they see one, usage will likely remain largely among the early adopter set. A recent study shows that somewhere around half of U.S. smartphone users say they’ve used QR codes but that seems extraordinarily high to me and there’s little information there on how many have become regular users of such tools. […]

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