QR Codes Used by Only 5% of Smartphone Owners

QR Codes Used by Only 5% of Smartphone Owners

Marketers love QR codes. These black-and-white squares act as physical links that can be printed on most anything. Since they’re cheap to produce and simple to use if you own a smartphone, QR codes have been embraced by many major brands and businesses as a marketing tool. But are they really making any impact?

The numbers say no. According to Forrester Research, only 5% of Americans with mobile phones have actually used QR codes in a three-month test period, a number which stands in strict contrast to the amount of brands implementing QR codes on merchandise and products.

Why Usage is Lagging

Experts believe that one of the biggest reasons why QR codes have yet to achieve any lasting popularity with the general public is because they’re confusing. Many people still aren’t entirely sure what QR codes are, let alone how to use them.

And for the people who do know how to scan a code, apps aren’t always high-quality and can leave users struggling with their smartphone cameras. This is definitely something I’ve experienced – and let me tell you, scowling at my Blackberry while holding it over a barcode on an IHOP kid’s menu is quite the experience.

Not only that, but too many businesses don’t know how to properly use QR codes. Users want to be compensated for scanning a strange-looking box on their brochures and flyers. QR codes are like little secrets passed between brands and consumers, and if a code simply directs a user to the business’ website, it’s a big let-down.

Proper QR Code Usage

Brands shouldn’t be letting down their audience, particularly when their clientele have to struggle with correctly scanning a QR code. This is why codes should be used to direct customers to unique content that informs or rewards their potential customers and makes the barcode worthwhile.

Some brands are making the most of these codes, such as Enterprise Rent-a-Car, which pasted codes on their rental cars so people can scan and view more info about the vehicle. Macy’s offered informational videos from clothing designers to their shoppers who scanned QR codes. Other businesses have used them to link to coupons, upcoming specials, and other worthwhile information.

Or businesses could take the route Jimmy Fallon did and make QR codes part of an epic an Easter egg hunt. The talk show host performed the memorable Internet-music sensation “Friday” with Stephen Colbert earlier this year (embedded below for your amusement). The end of the performance featured a QR code in the form of a somewhat-discreet sign, which redirected viewers to a series of videos that featured Jimmy Fallon talking about things in his office.

The sign is displayed at the 3:33 mark. Overall, the payoff is entertaining, unique, and worthwhile.

The appeal of QR codes to marketers and businesses is easy to see because they’re cheap to implement, can be used to measure consumer activity, and can provide potential customers with unique information. But the only way for these codes to achieve true popularity is for businesses to turn QR codes into something that rewards their users in such a way that makes their effort worthwhile.

Are QR codes ahead of their time? Will they pick up popularity anytime soon? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Scott Kaufmann
[email protected]

Scott is Partner at Lucid Agency and a lover of all things technology, marketing, investing and entrepreneurship. Scott volunteers on the board of the Denver-based Nonprofit Celebrate EDU and as a mentor for SeedSpot (a Phoenix-based social startup incubator).

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