You’ve seen them, these intricately marked Rorschach-like squares, next to merchandise in stores and on business cards, posters, or brochures. They’re called QR codes. The QR stands for "quick response." More powerful than traditional bar codes, these mobile tagging devices, when scanned with a smartphone, provide you with links, geo-coordinates, text; they're like a magic doorway to more information in a digital world. Developed in Japan for use in vehicle manufacturing, specifically inventory and supply chain management, QR codes initially gained rapid popularity in Europe and the U.S. But their adoption into the main stream while steady hasn’t been frenetic, for a couple of reasons.
First, not everyone has a smartphone. Consider stats released on March 6 by comScore for mobile usage. One of the notable data points from the report is that for the three-month average period ending January 2012, over 100 million U.S. mobile subscribers used smartphones out of a total of 234 million Americans using mobile devices in general. That’s about 57% that can’t scan QR codes with their mobile device even if they want to. That certainly would slow use.
A second reason for slow adoption is that there are some other cooler, more sophisticated technologies out there like near field communication (NFC) and mobile visual search (MVS). With MVS, you use your smartphone’s camera to shoot a picture. Within seconds, the MVS application captures the image and provides information or the opportunity to purchase. MVS is still in its early days, so, in addition to requiring your smartphone, it works best with landmarks, books, wine, DVDs, and artwork. To get more detail, check out Jon Barocas’ February article in Mashable on Why QR Codes Won’t Last .
The other technology seen encroaching on QR codes is near field communication. NFC establishes a set of standards to enable radio communication between smartphones by touching the phones together or bringing them into close proximity. As I understand it, Google Wallet is an example. This financial transaction capability makes NFC more multifaceted and is a key differentiator from QR codes. This short video shows you how NFC works.
The big difference is that you can’t make these technologies (NFC or MVS) easily at home, where with QR codes you can. In fact, you can make your own QR code right now at QRStuff.com and create an offer for whatever your heart desires. For the small business person this generates some great sales opportunities. For example, you can display your personalize QR code in your storefront windows, advertise different incentives for customers like a free latte with purchase, promote a free home evaluation on your business card, or design an icing message atop those cupcakes. Think of your QR codes as an interactive device that intrigues and then engages your smartphone customers, increasing the chance that they’ll remember your product and buy. If QR codes don’t last it really doesn’t matter, as you’re not looking at a huge investment; you’re just having some fun today and making some money.
Look at what happened when Heineken recently used QR codes at a music festival where everybody attending could have their own code printed on a sticker and wear it. These QR stickers carried personal messages that ultimately helped people break the ice during the event (asking a stranger for a scan does break the ice). The interactivity continued afterwards as festival goers uploaded photos of themselves and their codes to Facebook and connected with friends they’d just met. Here’s how it all unfolded. Check out “almost flying man."