If at the beginning of 2020 someone had sat down to write about technologies with potential but that did not end up taking off that much, possibly they would include QR codes on the list. A decade ago, QR codes had had their moment of more or less stardom. More than stardom, it could be said that hype. Its potential in digital marketing was high and companies wanted to exploit it.
The benefits they reported for companies were unquestionable, but consumers did not end up accepting them. It was a mix between technology failure (you had to download an app to access them and it was an extra step that not everyone was willing to go through) and apathy (it did not bring a clear benefit to consumers, who got used to it to them).
In 2013, a study pointed out that those who used QR codes were a minority. They could have contributed a lot, but they were left in a slight fiasco.
If this were being written in January 2020, even in March, there would have been the history of QR codes. However, since this is being written in the summer of 2021, the ending is very different. The pandemic has given QR codes an overwhelming revival, one in which everyone got used to them.
The return of the QR code
In Spain, its return boom started with the arrival of summer and the de-escalation after the 2020 confinement. Given that hygiene and safety measures required to minimize contact, restaurants and bars had to eliminate their menus.
It was there that consumers first encountered QR codes and got used to them. It was also for this reason that those who did not already have it integrated with their camera, downloaded an application to be able to read them. Nobody wanted to be left out of the QR code.
In addition, the interesting thing is not only that the QR code became popular, but also that its perception changed. If at that moment it was seen as a kind of unimportant and valuable element, something that was there but did not contribute much, the crisis established it as a safe and positive element. It was something that generated security in the contactless world of the coronavirus crisis. It was figuratively and directly: scanning codes was no longer scary.
In the summer of 2020, marketers warned that QR codes, which had come into the lives of consumers by necessity, could stay forever and become a very good opportunity to do marketing in the future. In the summer of 2021, no one doubts it anymore.
Why brands don’t want to lose it
As they point out in an analysis by The New York Times, consumers have adopted them faster than ever and are keeping them in use. QR codes are everywhere (in all types of business and in all types of countries) and are used for many more things. They are not only the access to the link to download the letter. There are already examples in which they are integrated into mobile payments and others in which they serve for consumers to place their orders without having to go through the store / restaurant staff.
Its popularity is overwhelming. There are some critical voices, who warn that their presence and their potential has reduced the privacy we enjoy in the real world, making it more similar to what we have in the digital world. However, they are not the most heard. And they are certainly not the ones that companies are listening to.
As they point out in the Times, for brands and businesses, QRs are something they want them to stick with. For companies, they have opened the door to get much more data from consumers and to know their activity much better. QRs expand their capabilities in analytics, tracking and audience segmentation, providing more information about consumers and their flows.
For example, restaurants have found that it allows them to better convince consumers to order more expensive items, because digital menus allow more data and photos to be added, but also that they simplify substitutions and help them better see what is selling.
It also allows, for example, to understand what is always requested and to make personalized recommendations. In the US, where menus are used via QR code to order directly, restaurants speak of cost savings of between 30 and 50% by eliminating the need for staff to ask what your order is.
To this is added all the potential that retail sees, which hopes to be able to use it as a way of personalization or to offer special offers to consumers. The experience would be more personalized and unique, much more segmented.