Watching March Madness this past March, you witnessed not only a lot of great basketball, but you witnessed QR Code technology firmly showcased in pop culture, unwavering on TV screens and game coverage across the country. Sure, the common man has seen QR Codes and is aware of them, but during each game there was a reminder from the CBS family carrying the games across channels: download our CBS app using a QR Code. The code was then presented on the screen, beckoning viewers to take out their phones and utilize the code to get live stats, supplemental coverage, and behind-the-scenes reporting. Every single game, multiple times a game: “Use this QR Code”.
Fertile Ground for Growth
QR Codes are not only back – bigger and better, if you will – but they are mainstream, and becoming increasingly utilized by the day. They are finally getting their time to shine here in the US first because they were (and are) able to provide solutions to real needs during the pandemic, and now are able to provide entertainment, insight, information, and so much more… all right from your smartphone.
Like a flower, the technology has blossomed from auto dealerships to mom-and-pop shops, CBS to your favorite diner. Years ago, when QR Codes first made their appearance, the use case wilted – whether due to those not knowing how to cultivate, or the timing being wrong leading to a ‘dry season’. Those times are long behind us now as the environment – saturated by the pandemic and the need for contactless transactions – is absolutely perfect for QR Codes to bloom.
Improved Accessibility, Practical Technology
The growth and use of QR Codes are further fertilized by the developing technology itself – QR code readers are now universally being built into mobile device by the manufacturer, so no separate app to download. This technology is native to a user base that, in many ways, has grown up with smartphones and QR Codes themselves – they’ve grown and utilized the internet just as the internet has simultaneously had an always improving mobile web experience. Of course there are newer, sexier technologies like NFC tags and beacons, but the QR code remains incredibly ubiquitous and practical, as it doesn’t require any special encoding or physical tags or additional devices, and can be displayed both physically on printed media, as well as television and digital media – it’s readily available from your main street general store to Fortune 500 enterprises alike.
A Better Use Case
In the early 2010s, marketers were printing QR codes on direct mailers, billboards, in-store displays, and all means of product packaging. The codes needed a real need in order to thrive, something more than a coupon or additional details – back then, there was no real or compelling reason to scan a QR Code. So why now? Why are they becoming mainstream? Simple: they provide answers and solutions during the pandemic, with current technology and a user base that is showing the world that QR codes are only just getting started: contactless payment, touchless shopping, digital menus, self-serve food ordering, and it doesn’t stop there.
Shows like ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘The Today Show’ display QR codes on-screen when they do their “Deals” segments to give users an easy way to transition from the program to the purchase pages for the products they review on the show. This, much like the CBS March Madness codes, make for a very simple and efficient way to tie together media and eCommerce.
Instagram launched a QR code generator that directs users and customers to a business or brand’s profile. From there they can see updated store details (like hours, location) and make purchases or returns. In the fall, voter registration was encouraged and enabled to communities using QR codes. Towards the end of 2020, CVS became the first national retailer to offer support for PayPal and Venmo QR codes as a form of touch-free payment at checkout. And yes, here in spring 2021 as the vaccine is rolling out, you’ll see TV commercials and flyers that have QR Codes for not only registering for a shot, but also providing health information, guidance, and a means of educating the population.
QR stands for ‘quick response’ and one thing is for certain: the return of QR Codes to the spotlight will be anything but quick. They are firmly mainstream, here for the future and here to stay.
With everything the pandemic brought to 2020, the year was a spotlight shining brightly on how touch-free solutions and QR Codes are to be a major part of not just our dining or shopping experience, but are fully a part of lives today, tomorrow, and well into the future.
We fully expect see a massive surge of QR code use into 2021. This blog is the first of three in a series which will focus on how QR codes will continue to develop and grow in the future.
When shopping, product packaging is a crucial aspect of consumer decision-making. In fact, in her article “Why 2021 is the year of QR codes” author Sneh Ratna Choudhary shares with readers that approximately 1/3rd of consumer decision making when shopping is solely based on a product’s packaging. Choudhary further reiterates this point with the realization that QR codes are the answer to the ever-present marketing problem of creating a minimalistic yet aesthetically pleasing design. The author also touches on QR codes being required with GMO products in the U.S.; supplying the consumer with an easy way to learn more about the ingredients within the product.
Today’s consumer is not only concerned about ingredients in GMO products, however. According to a 2020 consumer behavior report published by Deloitte, current and future consumers will most likely be making purchasing decisions based on a newly understood set of parameters, including: nutritional awareness, sustainability, and social responsibility. In his article titled “QR Codes on Food: How QR Code Food Uses Engage Customers”, the author addresses these three purchasing parameters and how QR codes can be effectively implemented with each. Firstly, the author highlights that only about one of every 3 people check the nutritional labels on the packaged food they eat, even though approximately 63% of the population want to eat healthy “most or all of the time”. Scott outlines that providing nutritional information via QR code, something that subsequently isn’t restricted by the space on product packaging, allows manufacturers the ability to add a more detailed set of information that is invaluable to consumers. Scott urges manufacturers to take advantage of the greater flexibility with the QR code, as consumers can be made easily aware of allergy information, social responsibility initiatives, instructions, sustainability certifications, and more with a simple scan. This also opens the door for the possibilities of food traceability. As the author outlines, “a running account of where [a product] originated, was manufactured, and was distributed along with relevant information about those production, manufacturing, and distribution facilities [can all be traced using a QR code]. Scott further emphasizes that QR code traceability can also take into account the present status of products, such as product recalls, updates regarding production facilities/fulfillment centers, and any other relevant information in regards to the product’s present supply chain status.
It is clear that the use of the QR code will continue to grow exponentially into 2021, with QR code food labels just one of many versatile uses of the technology.
Choudhary, Sneh Ratna. “Why 2021 Is the Year of QR Codes.” Beaconstac RSS, 24 Dec. 2020, blog.beaconstac.com/2019/02/why-2019-is-the-year-of-qr-codes/.
Scott. “QR Codes on Food: How QR Code Food Uses Engage Customers.” SproutQR, SproutQR, Inc., 1 Sept. 2020, www.sproutqr.com/blog/qr-code-food.
The global pandemic has forced us all to take safety precautions and we know that masks, gloves, and social distancing are ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and to maximize the safety of ourselves and those around us. As businesses continue with cautious re-openings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they are determining best practices for how to do so in a way that allows them to get back to some level of normalcy while giving their employees and customers peace of mind.
The silver lining in all of this is that there are several tactics which have now become staples of this current daily life that will presumably stay with us even beyond the pandemic.
One of the additions to life as we know it – which is really in its own revitalization of sorts – is QR codes at restaurants and eateries for contactless paying and ordering.
Contactless ordering and payment have become not only a ‘nice to have’ in restaurants but have taken hold as a must-have during these times. Independent establishments, chains, and even small venues have upgraded their payment systems to allow QR code functionality to bring food service to customers with limited physical exchange to employees and staff.
While going out to eat used bring about putting the phones down to enjoy each other’s company, now the phone is an integral component to a safer dining experience – and that may never change. Using a photo, enabling a QR code reader, and paying electronically are eliminating shared menus, shared bills, and – yes – shared germs.
So how does this all work?
When you arrive at the restaurant, you’ll certainly notice face masks and plastic shields protecting the host stand and other diners. At your table you will notice a (typically) laminated sheet or stand that has instructions directing you to use the QR code positioned front and center on it. When that QR code is simply scanned using your smartphone’s camera, a link will open to the restaurant’s menu pages.
QR codes have had widespread use for many years now but are seeing a resurgence especially as the CDC has recommended that restaurants, eateries, and bars use digital menus in limited the spread of the coronavirus. Many restaurants in larger cities had already been looking into touchless menu technology before the pandemic struck – and many patrons love the simplicity and ease of access – so the pandemic ushered the change along much quicker.
Even beyond the benefits of QR code menus for health and safety, there are additional advantages that come from applying the technology in restaurants.
Digital menus that utilize QR codes offer more flexibility and organization than a paper menu. The staff can quickly and easily update the digital menu to adjust items (such as add a dish, or remove one that’s sold out) and with some programs a restaurant could review and analyze data (such as what dish is most popular).
QR codes menus can have visuals, graphics, and video clips – which may be more appealing than the static photos on a paper menu. In a world where we love our Instagram and Facebook videos and gifs, applying that same thought to creative on a digital menu can be a huge hit. QR codes can also enable promotions, specials, and coupons right from the system.
The environmental impact is great as well as restauranteurs who are going to digital menus are not only reducing costs for themselves, but they are reducing waste!
With all of the positives in this silver lining, restaurant owners, industry experts, and marketers firmly believe that digital menus – and the QR codes that enable them – are here to stay. Smartphones are already part of our everyday routines, and now they will be fully engrained in our dining experiences as well.
We all want to be safe and we all want to get back to some level of normal. That said, long after a vaccine comes along the QR codes and digital menus will remain. They make contactless ordering and payment that much safer, quicker, and easier. The future of dining is here to stay.
LinkedIn has recently introduced a great new feature to further aid with its app’s functionality. The LinkedIn app now lets users connect through QR codes.
In the app, there is a newly added icon in the Home tab’s search bar. Tapping on that icon reveals a QR scanner as well as a code dedicated to you. Users can now scan others’ codes or upload an image of one from your phone and the app will take you to that user’s profile. Users can also share their own code in a variety of ways. In addition to sending it via messaging apps, your code can also be added to websites, your email signature, or printed on marketing materials.
This is a fantastic idea out of LinkedIn. QR code usage will help users connect with others immediately. Users will no longer meet someone at a conference or other networking event only to forget their name or misplace their business card. A quick QR code scan with the LinkedIn app and you’re connected for the foreseeable future, able to engage in further meaningful interactions that may result in more business. This also saves you from the potentially awkward exchange of having to ask someone how to spell their name, or as TechCrunch points out, connecting with the wrong “Mark Smith.”
Depending on what you read, the future of QR codes seems to be a mixed bag. The thoughts on QR Codes are influenced by where in the world the QR codes are used as different countries have differing appetites for the technology.
As noted by PYMNTS.com, the QR code has gotten a lot of attention recently for use as a digital payment, though such attention has been – for now – limited outside of Asia. EMVCo, the global technical body that manages QR Code payment specifications, has introduced the QR Payment Mark, meant to “promote global interoperability across EMV QR Code payments.” The QR Payment Mark will inform consumers that a particular merchant uses a digital payments application. In India, QR Codes have seen great momentum as officials work to move toward a cash-free society. India has launched the BharatQR, a digital payments tool back by Visa, Mastercard, and the National Payments Corporation of India. It has also been reported that the most successful deployments of QR Code-based payments have occurred in China where QR Code transaction have surpassed cash and cards.
Innovation Enterprise, however, writes about how infrequently QR Codes are used, especially here in the States. They note that while most people “would be able to recognize one if they saw it . . . the number of people that have actually used them is small, with even fewer using them with any regularity.”
Our thoughts? The applications of QR Codes can certainly be recognized by many, and the uses and utility are continuing to grow, develop, and emerge. Some argue that the QR Code hasn’t stood out to marketing teams as a ‘must’ in a singular-use case, but the reality is that QR Codes should be part of a marketing plan when there is a clear benefit to connecting online and offline media, and when your target audiences will likely understand how to interact with them (e.g. are you marketing to millennials or senior citizens).
As more and more marketing initiatives find success – such as SnapChat’s Snapcodes or Starbucks having customers scan codes from cups – businesses and brands will see more of the upside. QR Codes now are providing a one-way transaction, in directing users to information or content, but they are not – yet – collecting information. In an age where marketing is driven by ton of data, this will be the next big piece of the puzzle for QR Codes to explore and develop.
An area where QR codes are appear to be gaining momentum, but that are less publicly visible, are in areas related to industrial use and logistics, such as information access and inventory control. It may not be sexy, but it’s practical and can carry significant benefits to organizations that want to improve efficiency in their operations by merging cloud-based data with their real-world products and processes. Ultimately, regardless of how or where QR codes are being used, their utility ultimately depends on thoughtful implementation. Following established QR Code best practices will improve the chances that they are utilized as intended, while also providing an optimal experience for your users.