It was only a few years ago when QR codes were among the “buzzwords” in the retail industry. Deemed as a way to digitize traditional media, QR codes were developed to allow retailers with both a physical and online presence to connect the two channels and drive traditional customers towards new opportunities. However, the direct impact of QR codes hasn’t been quite as intended and more innovative retailers are using different methods to connect the two channels. So is the QR code dead? Let’s take a look at the QR code and the future of the technology…
- QR codes still require a certain level of technological sophistication – A major reason why QR codes have failed to accelerate their slow growth cycle is the amount of effort put into scanning a single QR code. The majority of phones do not come with built-in QR scanners, meaning consumers looking to scan a QR code must seek out and download an application. This process can be confusing and even then some tech-savvy consumers who understand the process simply do not want another app on their phone just for scanning QR codes. In fact, according to ExactTarget, 28% of U.S. smartphone and tablet owners said that they don’t scan QR codes because they don’t have an app for scanning or simply don’t know how.
- QR codes are used for information, an area with emerging competition – A recent study by Responsys showed that 65% of U.S. consumers who have scanned a QR code have done so to obtain additional information, more than any other reason. Through increases in the smartphone and tablet population over the past few years, the number of QR codes scanned has also increased. But as scans have increased, so have new and competitive ways for consumers to obtain information outside of QR codes. Below are a few examples…
- Near-field communication (NFC) continues to challenge QR usage – QR codes usage is growing, but not as fast as near-field communication (NFC). For traditional marketing, NFC allows information to be transmitted via radio communication between a phone with NFC capabilities and an information “tag”, or an unpowered NFC chip (such as a marketing sign which has been “tagged”). This technology is currently built into some phones today and has been deemed as a replacement to the QR code for many years.
- Image-recognition applications are becoming more common – One of the new areas of innovation within mobile retail technology is the ability for images to be recognized and then redirected to a new product page. For example, if a consumer takes a snapshot of a dress they like, they will immediately be redirected to a site which is selling that dress online. This technology is based around complex “learning algorithms” which have been prevalent in other industries but are making their way into retail for the first time.
- Augmented reality is becoming more realistic for everyone – Although it may seem relatively new, augmented reality has actually existed for several years. As an example, augmented reality in the retail industry would include having consumers view your latest promotional poster with an app or tablet camera and have that poster turn into a video with no further action required. This is much more sophisticated and interactive than QR codes and could become even more powerful with emerging wearable products such as Google Glass.
- Universal Product Codes (UPCs) may become the new QR codes – Some retailers have realized that UPC codes traditionally used to identify products can have an additional use. There are now apps available which can allow the unique UPCs found on every product or product tag to function in a similar way as a QR code without having to print a specific QR code. This is particularly useful for apparel items such as accessories which have small tags and can be more difficult for image recognition software to identify.
In conclusion, the QR code isn’t dead quite yet – in fact scans for QR codes have never been higher. However, while it once stood alone in bridging the gap between a physical and online presence, it now competes against newer and more innovative technology in a world where consumers are using their digital devices to acquire information more than ever before. It is likely that the utilization of QR codes will need to change for them to survive, with marketers likely opting to deploy newer and more accessible technology moving forward with their campaigns.