The Ultimate QR Code Fact Sheet
QR codes were created in 1994 by Masahiro Hara, an engineer who worked for the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave. At the time, workers scanned individual barcodes on component boxes, but as the size of inventories grew, there was a need to optimize this information-heavy, labor-intensive process with something that could hold more information. As you might have guessed, that something was QR codes.
QR code applications have since expanded beyond tracking automobile parts during the manufacturing process.
In contrast to its low adoption and usage in the 2000s, QR codes are being used today for many purposes and in countless places. Let’s explore some of these below:
Growth of QR code usage in recent years:
- QR code usage worldwide increased from 35% in September 2020 to 85% in April 2021. (Statista, 2021)
- In a June 2021 survey, 45% of responding shoppers in the US reported using a marketing-related QR code in the past few months. (Statista, 2021)
- It is expected that 5.3 billion QR codes will be used for coupon redemption by the end of this year. (Juniper Research)
Where you’ll see QR codes:
- During this year’s SuperBowl commercials, Coinbase, a cryptocurrency company, launched an ad that displayed a QR code bouncing around the TV screen in DVD screensaver-like fashion. Scanning the QR code directed viewers to Coinbase’s website, which saw over 20 million visits in under one minute. The massive influx of traffic temporarily crashed the Coinbase app.
- Korean skincare brand Hero Cosmetics was featured in a segment on The Today Show, which displayed a QR code that directed viewers to the brand’s products on Amazon. Engagement was high, and sales that day increased 70%.
- When Marvel Studios released their “Moon Knight” series this past March, there were QR codes in the background of scenes of the first, second, and fifth episodes. Scanning the QR code led viewers to a website that contained a weekly free web comic. The landing page has been visited over 1.5 million times.
In the sky
- During the opening show of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival this past March in Austin, Texas, Paramount+ used 400 drones that formed a QR code in the sky to promote their upcoming sci-fi original series “Halo”.
- On April Fool’s Day 2022, Sky Elements Drone Shows used 300 drones to organize a QR code display over Dallas, Texas. Scanning the QR code led viewers to the music video for singer Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the most popular example of bait and switch linking.
- On April 17, 2021, about 1500 drones formed a QR code over Shanghai skies to commemorate the first anniversary of a Japanese video game’s launch in China. Viewers who scanned the QR code were able to download the game onto their phones. The drone light show was organized by BiliBili, a video sharing website with a large Gen-Z user base.
- At the annual Central Saint Martins BA fashion graduation show this past May, designer Christie Lau debuted her collection with human-sized QR codes walking down the runway. Scanning the codes allowed viewers to try on the designs through an Instagram filter. Lau’s goal was to integrate digital fashion within a runway show.
- Klarna, a leading buy-now-pay-later provider, launched Australia’s first ever “censored runway” with QR codes. Models walked down the runway in nothing but a robe and a QR code. Guests who scanned via the Klarna app were able to view and purchase outfits, and access wish lists created by influencers.
- Friends and family members of those who lost their lives to mental illnesses are honoring them by creating murals, with help from community members, professional artists, and local youth. The murals are meant to raise awareness around mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide prevention. QR codes have been incorporated into the murals to provide access to backstories and mental health resources.
- Klarna also displayed mythical paintings across the UK to debunk myths about its business. Believing that a traditional media approach was “not sufficient to change behavior”, Klarna’s head of marketing instead invited consumers to discover the truth themselves. Scanning the QR code on the artwork directed consumers to a virtual gallery.
- After a successful experience using QR codes on screen, Hero Cosmetics launched a product line last fall that incorporated QR codes to give consumers more product information. They also used QR codes in a sampling campaign to direct people to purchase full-sized products.
- Recess, a CBD-infused sparkling water brand, linked QR codes on their cans to an online meditative game meant to inspire calm and reduce stress during the pandemic. The digital campaign combined QR codes and gamification to engage consumers in a creative way.
- Cool Cat, a wine spritzer brand, has QR codes on their products that allow anyone to easily make a purchase. As a bonus, customers can also access a Spotify playlist to accompany their drinks.
On OOH advertisements
- TikTok used QR code in its first-ever outdoor advertising campaign aimed at promoting unsigned talent. Scanning the QR code on these billboards and posters directed people to a special showcase featuring talented unsigned artists across a wide range of genres.
- Eyewear brand Elle Eyewear upped its OOH advertising by placing QR codes on street kiosks.
- Dame, a female-founded pleasure product brand, launched its “Get in Touch with Yourself” campaign in November 2021, featuring ads with QR codes on NYC subway ads. Commuters who scan the QR code are directed to Dame’s website to learn more about the brand and its products.
- MTA commuters also see their fair share of QR codes throughout stations and within subway cars. FreshDirect, an NYC-based grocery delivery service, launched a digital campaign that promoted different recipes to commuters depending on the day’s weather. Commuters can scan the QR code to view recipes as they hurry to catch their trains.
- Museums have elevated many aspects of the visitor experience by using QR codes. Visitors scan the QR codes next to artwork to learn more about the artist and access augmented reality content. The Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC made their mobile guide more accessible with QR codes. During their test period, they saw one-fifth of visitors (nearly 12,000 sessions) access the guide by scanning.
- Brands are using QR codes to bring digital experiences to their physical storefronts. With QR codes on store windows, brands can attract potential customers without them even stepping foot into the store. QR codes on in-store displays provide shoppers with try-on capabilities and additional product information.
Top use cases for QR codes
- Restaurants adopted QR codes early on during the pandemic, using them to create digital menus. According to the National Restaurant Association, half of all full-service restaurants in the United States have added QR code to their menus since the start of the pandemic. Aside from being contactless, digital menus are also useful because of the ability to update menu information in real time.
- Given the convenience and widespread adoption of QR codes, restaurants have been exploring other use cases, namely with creating more personalized customer experiences. For example, restaurants can use QR codes to track allergies.
- PayPal introduced QR code payments in May 2020 and has since facilitated contactless payment in CVS, Nike, and around one million small businesses. Digital payments companies like Stripe and Square have also rolled out QR code payments.
- Contactless payments have surged by 150 percent since March 2019 (Visa, 2020)
- 1.5 billion people worldwide used QR codes to make a payment in 2020 (Juniper Research)
- The US will see a growth of 240% in the number of users paying with QR codes by 2025 (Juniper Research)
Subscriptions and Repeat Orders
- Given the convenience and flexibility of subscriptions, both traditional and non-traditional industries have adopted this business model as a way to sustain revenue and drive customer retention. The average US consumer has 5 retail subscriptions, and factoring in other types of subscriptions (e.g. music streaming, phone services, Amazon Prime), the average consumer spends on average $219 each month.
- CPG brands are using QR codes on their product packaging to facilitate quicker repeat orders and encourage customers to subscribe to their products and services.
- Brands are using QR codes in their advertising campaigns to make it easier for viewers to connect and to direct customers back to the brand. QR codes on billboards, street kiosks, posters, and flyers allow people to learn more about the brand beyond the limited amount of information presented.
- Sustainable brands are communicating their initiatives to customers through QR codes. Cocokind, a sustainable beauty brand, recognizes secondary packaging as “underutilized real estate.” They encourage consumers to scan the QR code on their products to learn how they calculate carbon emissions and to explore other initiatives, such as sustainability reports, directly on their website.
- Brands are also using QR codes, which create unique digital identities for each product, to ensure product quality and authenticity. Feals, a CBD oil brand, uses QR codes that link to a list of Certificates of Analysis, which ensures purity and consistency of ingredients.
QR code usage across industries
- Hotel staff and administration are using QR codes to streamline daily operations and elevate the customer experience. Some examples are using QR codes to facilitate check-in and check-out, promote in-house activities and events, digitize room service catalogs, and collect feedback.
Banking and Finance
- Banks and financial institutions are providing customers with a more secure and quick method of making payments, accessing accounts, and applying to loans through QR codes.
- Handling crypto transactions becomes more seamless with QR codes, as well. When transferring crypto into PayPal from an external wallet, for example, users can securely share their unique wallet address by scanning a QR code instead of entering the address manually.
- Travelers can scan the QR code on an airline’s app at the gate to quicken the check-in process.
- In October 2021, United Airlines partnered with PayPal to offer touch-free inflight purchases, online or offline.
- Ecommerce brands are using QR codes to connect with their customers in offline spaces, such as brick-and-mortar stores and physical advertisements. From brand discovery to product purchase, there are numerous opportunities throughout the shopping journey for customers to interact with brands through QR codes.
- When thinking about the ability of QR codes to connect highly engaged users to their favorite brands, it’s not surprising that QR codes play a large role in the sporting world , where fans want to connect with their favorite teams. Fans watching games from their homes can scan on-screen QR codes to learn more about the players and purchase merchandise.
The future of QR codes
In recent years, QR codes applications have grown immensely, and we are only starting to explore the wide variety of capabilities. In fact, we can expect QR codes to replace barcodes in retail within the next five years.
According to eMarketer, the number of US smartphone users scanning a QR code will increase from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025. With this sustained growth in usage, we can expect QR codes to leave its mark across all industries and in our daily lives.