QR Codes for Business: Pros and Cons
During the Covid-19 pandemic, QR codes began popping up everywhere. The technology first appeared in the 90s, but the beginning of mass vaccination made it known for people all over the world and showed new prospects for business. The pandemic has sped up the penetration of technology into business processes. QR codes are used for contactless payment, they store marketing offers and product description, etc. A QR code is easy to use. A large amount of data can be encoded in it, so it seems to be a magic wand (e.g. there is no need to print a restaurant menu if you can print only a QR code leading to a web page with it). However, the technology sometimes can harm business. In this piece, you will learn how and where QR codes work, why it's profitable to use them and when it's better to abandon them.
What are QR Codes
A QR code (a quick response code) is a square-shaped pixel barcode. Unlike a simple barcode, a QR code is two-dimensional, which means that it’s read horizontally and vertically. A QR code stores more information than a barcode:
- links to the company's website, product pages or mobile app;
- payment details;
- data for verification or access to certain information (password, logins).
Masahiro Hara, an engineer at Denso Wave Inc., a subsidiary of Toyota invented a QR code. Barcode resources were not enough with the rapid economic growth of Japan and the increase in the number of goods in the 90s. New codes stored more information. The first QR code appeared in 1994, it was used in the automotive industry. Later, Denso Wave made the technology available to everyone. In the 2000s, the entire world recognized QR codes — the technology ensured transparency in production with tracking of every detail. The QR code received ISO certification, which means that the company's products meet international standards.
How does a QR Code Work
A QR code has information encoded in one of the following ways: byte, numeric, alphanumeric, kanji (hieroglyphs). The scanner recognizes data by black and white cells, which are grouped in patterns.
In the original Denso Wave technology, the scanner first reads three squares in the corners (finder pattern). There is also a small square in the lower right quarter. Next, other small square-shaped monochrome elements are recognized. But such a code is not the only option. There are others that look different but perform the same functions. Let's compare a few examples.
Types of QR Codes
QR codes can be:
- Static. They store information that cannot be edited once the code is created. You can use them for fixed actions: encoding of Wi-Fi settings, identification of staff members, registration for events, transfer of details.
- Dynamic. Information can be updated at any time. Companies choose such codes to collect statistics, feedback and marketing campaigns.
Where QR Codes are Used
QR codes can be used in any sphere. Some examples:
Marketing tasks — promotions, additional information about products, digital business cards.
QR code payment — it's an alternative to a cash register and acquiring.
Control of goods in production and by inspection authorities.
Example. The «Chestny ZNAK» system for labelling goods: checking their originality and quality.
Staff members control — access to some premises or files, identification.
Movement of people — movement during the pandemic within a country and when crossing borders.
Navigation — self-guided tours.
Example. In Abu Dhabi (UAE), there is a system of tourist navigation by QR codes: a tourist can see not only the address of the building but also a historical reference.
- Educational purposes — attendance control or access to learning materials.
Example. The «Mobile Library» project - stands with QR codes that lead to virtual bookshelves. The user selects a book and gains free access to it.
- Transition to augmented and virtual reality. The user scans the code and goes to the product page.
Example. Kinder has added an AR QR code to its delicious products. Now both children and adults are scanning codes to open a portal into Africa.
How to Create and Read QR Codes
Most modern smartphones can scan QR codes online using special applications from Google Play or App Store. Some smartphones can even scan QR codes with a camera. It's not necessary to scan the code from some surface, a photo or digital image is enough. This is how desktop QR code scanners work, for instance, Aspose QR Code Scanner. Apps also recognize codes from uploaded images.
How to create a QR code
To create a QR code online, just select a QR code generator — an app or service on the website. Examples: QR Code Generator and ME QR. Just enter the data to be encoded and the size of the code image. Some services offer an unusual design.
Advantages of QR Codes for Business
Easy to create and use
No special devices are needed, only an app on a smartphone. It's possible to take a picture of a QR code and then scan it online for free. After scanning, the user will go right to the resource. They won't have to enter the website address and other data manually. This speeds up access to information and purchase.
The customer doesn't need cash or a card to pay with a QR code. There is no need to enter account/card details or phone number for money transfer. It reduces the risk of errors. QR code payment is easy. The user immediately goes to the payment details if the code is static. A dynamic QR code allows you to personalise payments and give the user a link to a payment with a specific amount. This method will speed up and simplify payment, protect users from phishing sites and errors.
Bonuses for marketing
Coupons, additional information about products, links to contests are encoded in QR codes. QR codes store invitations to events or information about them. People can register for an event using a QR code.
QR codes allow marketers to track places in the selling area that are attractive to customers. The more scans, the more visible the codes. This is a working tool for evaluating the effectiveness of outdoor advertising and tracking the customer journey.
Example. The user sees a printed advertisement of a product and the website address. Then they search for a website and make a purchase. Analytics will show that the customer came by direct search, when in fact they learned about the product from the advertising booklet. If you place a QR code containing a link and a UTM tag, then analytics will display the correct source that attracted the user.
What is hidden in QR codes is always a mystery. Explain to users what they will get if they scan the code but do not forget to create intrigue. Tell them that they will get some surprise or bonus.
During the pandemic, restaurants began to make digital menus to reduce the number of contacts with surfaces. This can also be used beyond the pandemic.
Example. The company doesn't spend money on printing and updating materials. The customer doesn't have to wait for the menu. It's convenient to choose dishes on the smartphone screen. You can take screenshots so as not to forget what you want to order.
QR codes can also replace print advertising. Especially when leaflets are printed for a short-term promotion. Codes instead of offline materials simplify marketing and reduce company costs.
If there is not enough space in an offline store, a QR code will show the entire range. And the company doesn't need to rent a bigger space to accommodate all the products.
Easy printing and placement
QR codes are black and white and do not require colour printing. They can be scanned from different angles, which means that you can place them on any surface: banners, paper cups, printed leaflets, cars and so on. Even damage by 30% will not hurt - the scanner will recognize the code.
Disadvantages of QR Codes for Business
Not all people understand how to use QR codes. First, the company will have to conduct research and find out how advanced the target audience is and whether users will have difficulties.
Example. Seniors are suspicious even of bank cards. Some senior people don't have modern smartphones with QR code scanners, so it will be impossible for them to use QR code payment.
New things are often met with skepticism and suspicion. Customers can decide that you want to steal their money in such a «tricky» way. It's connected to a lack of digital literacy. You'll have to explain to distrustful users why you switched to new technology, how to scan QR codes and why it is safe. Sometimes it's not easy.
QR codes are ineffective if they are the only option
QR codes are not always convenient even for advanced users. If the user doesn't have a QR code reader on their smartphone, they will have to spend time downloading it. The user can also forget the code for payment. You risk losing your customers if you have only the QR code option of payment and receiving information.
No access to the Internet
90% of people worldwide had access to fast Internet in 2021, and mobile traffic reached millions of terabytes in 2022. However, there can be some errors that lead to unstable Internet connection. This situation is familiar to everyone. This can happen due to a lack of money in the account, unsuccessful location or simply due to problems with a mobile operator or provider if the connection is via Wi-Fi. It is impossible to scan a QR code without access to the Internet. In this case, Google Pay/Apple Pay wins.
QR codes open up new avenues for business. You can use them in advertising campaigns, for contactless payment, presentation of your business or products and so on. QR codes store more information than users can find offline.
The main advantages of QR codes are their speed and simplicity. A smartphone with a special application is enough to scan the code. Besides, QR code payment doesn't require a point-of-sale terminal. QR codes save the company money on printing materials and provide accurate analytics of the effectiveness of outdoor advertising and product locations.
The major disadvantage of QR codes is that they are not accessible to everyone. Some people do not know how to use them or are simply not ready for this technology. You need access to the Internet to scan QR codes, while Google Pay/Apple Pay work without it.