QR Codes Gain Critical Mass

A lot has been written about QR codes lately. I talked about how e-commerce might be propelled by the use of it. Mobio Systems just sent me over some updated facts and figures on QR codes, and the results are interesting.

Let’s start with the statistics that almost seem crazy: barcode scanning grew by a whopping 4549 percent in Q1 of this year, when compared to Q1 of the year before. This can mainly be attributed to the fact that big name brands have begun to embrace QR codes as a way to revitalize and trace print campaigns. The fact that you can’t pick up a weekly circular without seeing a QR code somewhere is testament to this statistic.

More surprising, though, is who is scanning these codes. If you thought something like this would only be interesting to the young and nerdy, you would be incorrect. Mobio’s research shows that the largest age bracket that is scanning QR codes is the 35 to 44 set. Coming in second is a tie between 25- to 34-year-olds and 45- to 54-year-olds. I was surprised at how many older folks are latching on to this technology, to be honest. More interesting is the finding that 68 percent of QR code scanners are female.

But how are QR codes being used? The report shows that 89 percent of QR codes lead to more information about a product, promotion, or event. Only 6 percent of QR codes are for mobile payment. I’m disappointed in this, to be honest. Back when I wrote my first column on QR codes, it was clear to me that they enabled decentralized e-commerce, and the ability to turn mass marketing into a point of sale. This vision has not come to fruition yet. I strongly believe it will, but it will take longer than I expected. Just like the web started out as a bunch of brochure sites, and e-commerce followed quite a while behind it, QR codes are being used now mainly for information. As the technology matures and (more importantly) users become more savvy and comfortable with buying things via their mobile devices, this will change.

QR codes and text messaging will both vie for the mobile consumer. As we have seen, consumers can already buy a multitude of things via text messages, including subway tickets, parking garage tickets, and soda from vending machines. Text messages and QR codes will be used for these kinds of “on the go” purchases more and more as different cultures get used to transacting in this way.

Text messages have the advantage that everyone knows how to text message, and every mobile device (pretty much) can do it. QR code readers are easy to come by on smartphones, but other devices might not be able to read them.

On the other hand, QR codes carry so much more information than text messages. A QR code can embed product details, sizing options, pricing, and much more in them. The applications that read the QR codes also have their own level of logic and information, such as stored (and safe) credit card transactions, purchase history, and loyalty program tie-ins. While there is perhaps a steeper learning curve for someone who’s never heard of a QR code, the potential of the codes is much, much greater.

Having said all of this, there is one thing gnawing at me. Deep down inside, I feel like QR codes and other such “scannable” tags are just a stepping stone to something else. When the Wii came out, its motion sensors enabled the game to understand human movements. But you had to hold a controller for this to happen. The Kinect, on the other hand, evolved that idea and takes a full body scan (in 3D) of the player as she is playing the game. This brought the idea of motion control to another level. Similarly, the idea here is using your mobile phones to get more information and engage in transactions stemming from something in the real world. Scannable tags seem like a stepping stone to being able to do that. As augmented reality technologies become more robust, we will see less of a need for tags, because our phones will be able to identify the objects we are scanning directly.

I think that is the future for these QR readers. Companies like Mobio (who has built a great infrastructure around mobile payments and security) will need to become “tag agnostic” and look beyond QR codes to augmented reality and other visual recognition methods. It will be a while before the technology catches up with this idea, however. QR codes and the like are here to stay for quite some time. But I’m frankly more excited about what will happen when codes like these are no longer needed.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Leave them below!

Until next time…

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