First developed in 1994, QR codes are nothing new. However, they certainly made their mark in 2020.
It wasn't until the recent pandemic that the world saw a QR code revolution. These matrix barcodes are everywhere, allowing businesses across varying industries to provide their customers with a safe, interactive experience.
While COVID has had a devastating impact on the world, businesses and consumers are adapting. Old technology is driving innovation, leading to the rising popularity of QR codes.
What Are QR Codes?
QR stands for "Quick Response," and is associated with machine-readable codes.
These black and white squares are read in two directions, both horizontally and vertically, allowing them to store significantly more data than standard barcodes. Compared to conventional barcodes, which store up to 80 characters of data, QR codes can hold approximately 100 times more data.
While these codes were invented to support the auto industry, QR code technology continued to evolve, and so did its applications. Various industries and sectors began leveraging QR codes, including marketing, advertising, and online payment services. The primary function of these codes is to link the digital world with the physical. Consumers can quickly scan a QR code and receive information on their phones.
Data shows that the number of U.S. households using QR codes increased by 7% from 2018 to 2019. This was due to a breakthrough in 2017, as updates to Android and iPhone operating systems gave virtually all new smartphones the capability to scan QR codes without downloading any specialized apps. These rising trends paved the way for what would happen next.
The Benefits of Using QR Codes as a Business Owner
Designed to give users information quickly and easily, QR codes allow businesses to connect, engage, and convert consumers.
Just some benefits of QR codes include:
- Directing customers to a specific landing page or websites
- If you have a physical store, QR codes can direct customers to new online platforms and channels
- Contactless payments
- Advertising opportunities, directing consumers to online tutorials, social media profiles, coupons, and much more
Recommended reading: Ways to Meet Consumers' Expectations with Contactless Experiences
Specific to COVID, QR codes also help contact tracers keep the pandemic in check. Since the outbreak, businesses are encouraged or required to keep logs of who has been in their establishment. Restaurants, bars, and shops link their QR codes to a form or website, logging who has been there and when. Just in case someone tests positive for COVID, this approach helps individuals better understand their risk to reduce further spread.
The Link Between COVID-19 and QR Codes
Once COVID-19 hit, business owners had to adapt quickly to stay afloat. The goal was to keep people safe, and QR codes were the answer.
QR codes have always been a mobile, touchless solution, but until now, this technology was a novelty instead of a need. Once COVID spread, QR codes made a swift comeback. Just like that, the use of a 25-year-old technology accelerated in a matter of months.
QR codes allow customers to have a touch-free experience, which is more important than ever before, especially in the restaurant, healthcare, retail, and travel industries. The versatility of QR codes makes them useful for a wide range of functions related to slowing the spread of COVID.
A technology that was once used specifically for managing inventory in large warehouses is now found on the tables of fine dining restaurants. This offers a contactless way to read a menu. It is also being leveraged as a contactless payment option. For example, CVS now offers touch-free payments through their partnership with Venmo and PayPal at 8,200 stores.
Here are some of the ways QR codes are being utilized in response to the current pandemic to benefit both business owners and consumers:
- Restaurants and bars— This application helped familiarize people in the United States with QR codes, a technology that was adopted years ago in other countries, such as China. The need for greater hygiene sparked the use of QR codes in the restaurant industry, replacing the use of physical paper menus. This is beneficial for restaurant owners because they can now edit menus without needing to go through the costly process of reprinting.
- Marketing— QR codes are trackable. They also help bridge the gap between a customer's online and offline experience. These benefits appeal to any marketers in terms of long-term strategies. A recent study also found that QR codes pique interest among curious consumers. This helps boost the effectiveness of campaigns.
- Healthcare— From patient identification to medical equipment information, patient follow-up information to hospital marketing, QR codes offer so many practical uses within the healthcare industry.
- Payment processing— QR codes allow for instant, touch-less payment processing. These codes are not only reliable and easy to use, but they are also highly secure when encoded with security in mind.
- Travel— QR codes help eliminate human-to-human interaction in terms of checking in, checking bags, paying, and more. This is something that travelers are becoming more and more aware of, as research shows that 78% of people consider contactless capabilities as one of their top three hotel selection criteria. China is also pushing for a QR code-based travel system that would help establish a traveler's health status.
While restaurants taught an entire population how to use QR codes effectively, the use of this technology is leading to more creative uses. Apple even developed a new format that includes colors, circles, and dots instead of the current black and white blocks. The world is taking notice of QR codes, and for the first time, is meeting the critical needs of consumers and businesses around the globe.
Once viewed as a technological failure, associated with gimmicky marketing, in the year 2021, QR codes are now the future.
QR codes have found their time to shine, and this time around, they are here to stay.
Learn more about how you can transform your marketing strategy with QR codes today!