My friends and I went to a restaurant for dinner the other night, and instead of the fancy laminated menus, we found a tent card sitting on our table. Scanning the QR code took us to a digital menu, where we looked through nightly specials and accessed the checkout portal, which allowed us to settle our bill through a contactless payment. This has been the routine of our dining experiences since restaurants began using QR codes to enforce social distancing rules during the pandemic—and they are not alone.
From museum walls to storefront displays, QR codes have become a common sight in unlikely places. This past year has seen the use of QR codes burgeon; half of U.S. restaurants currently use the touchless technology on their menus. How has the pandemic accelerated the use of QR codes? What opportunities are there for brands to leverage QR codes in their marketing strategies? At the end of the day, are these just tools for digital payments?
QR, or “quick response,” codes have seen a number of enhancements since they were first developed by automobile company Denso Wave in the 1990s to track vehicles throughout the manufacturing process. QR codes initially required the use of a barcode reader, but with Apple’s iOS 11 update in 2017 (as well as complimentary Android upgrades), they can be directly scanned by the camera app from both iPhones and Android phones alike. Because of how QR codes work, they store more information than barcodes, and marketers have begun to use them as a way to easily direct customers to landing pages and specific web content. Nonetheless, increased accessibility and simplicity didn’t translate into popularity, and QR codes were soon regarded as a fad.
Then came the pandemic in 2020.
The frenzy of maintaining social distancing and contactless interactions set the stage for the accelerated use of QR codes. The restaurant and hospitality industry was among the first to adopt the technology, replacing physical menus with digital ones and offering customers a safer way to order, browse, and pay the bill. The pandemic also occurred in the backdrop of increased access to mobile devices and high-speed internet, making for a more seamless transition.
With the public’s embrace of QR code agility aided by the fact that nearly everyone had built-in scanners in their pockets by default, marketers began to give the technology a second look. QR codes went from being a quick solution for combatting in-store shopping concerns at the height of the pandemic to an avenue for increasing brand transparency and creating better communication between brands and their customers. Brands like L’Oreal, Ralph Lauren, and Puma have added QR codes to their products and stores for a more personalized shopper experience while Best Buy, Target, and Walmart are among some of the biggest retailers to have integrated QR codes into their payment methods.
To quantify the QR code’s reach, 80% of ordering, checkout, and payment services will become contactless by 2024, and about 5.3 billion coupon codes will be redeemed via QR codes by 2022. This momentum has encouraged brands to explore the ways that QR codes can enhance their consumer experience. From being able to access product information in seconds to unlocking exclusive content, customers have increasing expectations of personalization, efficiency, and accessibility—they want brands to deliver. Finally, the general population is realizing that QR codes are more than just a means for digital payments.
2021 has turned out to be an inflection point for QR codes. They are finally ubiquitous and convenient enough to have widespread adoption, which means that things will only get more interesting from here. Moving from simple URL encoding into the richer brand storytelling space has both marketers and consumers excited for the future.
That ubiquity is not simply about mobile devices. Everyone from Facebook to Instagram, from Snapchat to Wechat, from TikTok to YouTube... nearly every major social network is contributing to QR code traction. This will ensure that the new generation of internet users adopts QR codes as a normal, natural way of bridging between the digital and physical worlds.
QR codes have undoubtedly catalyzed a shift in consumer behavior and highlighted the importance of omnichannel experiences, thereby requiring brands to be more creative and to search for ways to integrate the technology. One solution is Brij.
Brij takes QR codes to the next level by providing brands with unique codes that can be printed onto product inserts, packaging, or the product itself, emphasizing accessibility and efficiency. Brij’s one-touch registration and re-order platform incentivizes consumers to register their product, incentivizing loyalty and giving brands access to valuable first-party data that is lost through wholesale. Consumers, too, gain access to discounts, product information, warranties, and much more.
In a pandemic-driven explosion of QR codes, working with Brij isn’t just a worthwhile investment—it’s a way of storytelling.
Let's be clear, the QR code itself isn't something to get excited about. QR codes are just a means to an end. And up until recently, that 'end' has been a very simple, flat experience. We've already talked about how the experiences triggered by QR codes are getting richer, but what if there was a better 'means' to get to those experiences?
Enter NFC tags. NFC stands for near field communication, and NFC tags serve a similar purpose to QR codes except that they are triggered in close proximity to scanners rather than through using a camera to visually scan something. When you purchase something with your mobile wallet by holding your phone near a support point of sale device, you're using NFC.
We fully intend to expand on the potential of NFC as both an alternative and a compliment to QR codes in a future blog post, however it's important to understand that both of these triggers can be valuable gateways into consumer transactions, experiences, and brand storytelling.
Scanning QR codes in advertisements or on social media is one thing, but brands should be mindful of the long-term value that proper integration can provide. This cuts to one of the core value propositions of Brij: the ongoing connectivity between a brand and its patrons.
Before Brij, if a customer wanted to inquire about some detail of a product they've owned for 6 months, they likely would begin with a Google search, opening up the door to competitive media targeting and a multitude of other distractions.
With Brij, however, we're educating consumers to go directly to the source for the information they're seeking. This deepens both the consumer’s connection to the brand as well as the brand's knowledge about its customers through the first-party data they're able to collect.