Do People Scan QR Codes? Yes, They Do!
A good marketer always has a bit of skepticism about new trends. It only takes a few failed projects to realize what works for one brand, may not work for yours. And we are so busy that “shiny object syndrome” can cost us valuable time and resources.
Naturally, the resurgence of QR codes raises eyebrows. Especially because updating product design or packaging to include a QR Code Experience can be a big project. And for some brands, real estate on packaging for a QR code is not a commodity. Consequently, packaging redesigns can take months to strategize and execute.
And the first question that is inevitably asked is “Do people even scan QR Codes?”
The short answer: YES! People scan QR Codes.
There is a large body of evidence to support the fact that QR code scanning is going mainstream.
The data behind QR Code usage
The team at Brij conducted research about usage and desires around QR codes.
Here is what we found.
- 91% of people had scanned a QR code
- 91% believe QR codes are as helpful as smartphone apps
- 89% wanted to see more use of QR codes
- 86% of people had scanned a QR code in the last month
We surveyed 548 residents of the United States between the age of 20 and 60 years old and 80% of the respondents were in the 25 - 50 age group.
We ran the survey in May 2021, a year into the Coronavirus pandemic when awareness of the QR code was spiking. However, as you will see later in this article, interest in QR codes is only growing since COVID has subsided.
We are not the only ones looking into QR code usage. eMarketer has been tracking QR code scanner usage.
Prior to 2020, QR Code adoption in the U.S. was not trivial at 52.6M or 16% of the U.S. population. The use of AR/VR technology was comparable in 2019.
According to research from eMarketer, it is projected that by 2025, the number of mobile phone users scanning a QR code in the US will reach 99.5M people or 29% of the U.S. population. This would be nipping on the heels of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home which currently have a 35% adoption rate.
The numbers seem low compared to our own study, so it's worth noting the following:
- 40% of the U.S. population is under 18 or over 65 (KFF)
- 15% of adults still do not use SmartPhones (Statista)
- 12% of population are below the poverty line (Census.gov)
We also used Amazon MTurk to conduct our survey, which could possibly introduce bias to a more techsaavy crowd. However, techsaavy also correlates with knowledge and desire to shop online..
It’s fair to say that QR codes are going mainstream.
The Rise of QR Codes
Prior to 2020, QR codes were a relatively sleepy technology. The QR (short for Quick Response) Code was created in 1994 by an engineer at Denso Wave, a Japanese automotive company. At the time, auto workers scanned barcodes on auto part boxes, but as the size of the inventory grew, there was a need for a scannable code that could hold more data.
In 2002, QR codes went mainstream in Japan. What accelerated that trend was the emergence of mobile phones with a QR code scanning feature. Phones suddenly made it possible to access websites and coupons. And it became an indispensable tool for businesses and ubiquitous in daily life in Japan.
Use of QR codes first spread into Asia. QR codes went viral in 2011, when Alipay added them as a payments feature. By 2017, China had a 65% QR code adoption rate.
That same level of adoption was slow to spread to the West as you can see from this Google Trends chart dating back to 2008..
In the United States, smartphones didn’t start getting popular until 2007 when the iPhone launched. As smartphones were gaining traction, QR code scanners were only available as downloadable apps. Apple didn’t put a native scanner function on its phones until 2017, finally removing the friction for consumers – but the adoption still wasn’t there. At the time, Techcrunch declared it was “too late.”
In 2020, smartphone users were finally made aware of the QR code scanning function laying dormant on their phones. The smoking gun was COVID. With mass germophobia and the desire for restaurants to reopen, people got familiar with QR codes. Since then the search volume for “how to scan a QR code” has increased.
The icing on the cake was the infamous 2022 Coinbase superbowl commercial. And a year later, usage of QR Codes in Super Bowl commercials increased. These events woke up marketers around the world to the idea of using QR codes to drive awareness and conversions.
QR Codes as an Awareness and Acquisition Vehicle
Marketers are starting to put QR codes into play.The first place marketers' heads go is customer acquisition. And placing them where there are a lot of audience eyeballs.
And the most memorable example in recent years is no doubt the Coinbase Superbowl Commercial.
Anecdotaally, we see them all the time on cable and streaming TV commercials, i.e. Roku, Hulu, etc. This particular campaign below is also an Out of Home (OOH) campaign in Penn Station in New York City. The OOH campaign also includes a QR code.
Speaking of OOH, QR codes are being added to all sorts of campaigns including, billboards, subway ads, taxi ads, car & truck wraps, sporting & concert event ads/billboards, and direct mail (technically this is in-home, but similar in use and impact).
This makes a ton of sense, as previously OOH was considered an awareness play and hard to track. And adding a QR code on a billboard is the equivalent of adding a clickable and trackable button.
QR Codes on Products
For consumer brands with physical products, the next level of play is putting QR codes on packing or the actual product itself. This allows the product to become an always-on billboard. But the use cases go beyond awareness and acquisition. In the context of products, it becomes a differentiation (branding, product features) and retention (promote relevant products) tool as well!
In the last couple of years, we are seeing an explosion of QR codes on products. There are even QR codes on Coca-cola labels.
Coca-cola is a very influential brand. It’s no surprise that adoption is surging in the drink category. We just spent a couple of days at ExpoWest, a huge natural product show and many drink brands were using QR codes.
Recently, a beverage brand asked us “is this for real?” To answer this, we went into the Whole Foods in Union Square in New York City on March 30, 2023. We quickly found 10 beverage brands using QR codes on their products.
This trend is not limited to drinks. We’ve seen them on everything from appliances, durable goods, hardware, and clothing to a range of CPG including food, beverage, supplements, and cosmetics.
And you can expect more to come heading into 2027
For decades, the barcode, also known as Universal Product Code (UPC), has provided price lookup capabilities. However, with increased demand for greater product information, authentication, and traceability, the barcode will make way for the new standard, based on the QR code.
GS1, the organization managing the barcode system, is preparing the transition to QR codes in 2027, a movement referred to as Sunrise 2027. What’s most exciting about brands is that this change will free up a lot of space on packaging.
And for buyers, with a single QR code, one can scan for more information AND buy their product at checkout.
QR Code Experiences open up a world of possibility
The vast majority of consumer products are sold in retail stores and Amazon. Those two places are “dark channels.” They are dark in the sense that most brands don’t know who is buying and are unable to engage with the buyer directly.
Adding a QR code to product packaging shines a light in to the darkness. Scanning a QR code is the equivalent of clicking a link, and brings shoppers to an owned branded experience.
From there the possibilities are endless. It’s a new channel for communication and selling. What can you do with that channel? Anything you could do with any other channel!
Similar to Facebook, the QR Code Experience channel is also a Swiss Army Knife. Brands can use it to do the following:
- Capture data
- Share educational content
- Drive engagement
- Sell product
- Run promotions
Brands can customize these experiences by SKU and selling channels. Here are some use cases to think about for your brand:
- Sharing branded unboxing videos and recipes
- Building email, SMS, and retargeting audiences
- Driving reviews for Amazon listings
- Increasing retail velocity with instant rebates and coupons
If you are thinking about how you can level up your game with QR Code Experiences to capture email or drive growth for your brand. The Brij team is happy to talk shop any time. Get in touch here.