Are your QR codes gathering dust?

By Kirk Baetens, Morpace

We see them everywhere — a cross between squiggly lines and digital crop circles. They are on brochures and direct mail pieces, they appear on our smartphones, and we see them popping up on business cards.

We know what Quick Response or QR codes are. But are they being utilized correctly and do consumers really care about them? Their benefits seem to be "no brainers," so why hasn't the usage been more among consumers?

Today, more than 50 percent of U.S. mobile users own smartphones. Given that, utilizing QR codes is a cheap way to give consumers an easy means to shop, gather information or provide feedback. While the awareness of QR codes has risen dramatically, the use of these codes has not kept pace, according to the August 2012 Morpace Omnibus. A total of 83 percent of consumers have seen a QR code, an increase of 20 percent over 2011, according to the Morpace Omnibus, while only 30 percent of consumers said they have used a QR code, compared to nearly 25 percent one year ago.


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As market researchers we wonder how to best utilize this technology.

Having a QR code is not enough. As a retailer, you have to use the QR code to give consumers something of value. Consumers use QR codes for a wide variety of reasons, and the Morpace omnibus noted that 55 percent use QR codes for getting a coupon, discount or deal. The benefits of this strategy are clear — as long as a consumer has their phone on them, they can find an item of interest within the retailer and use the QR code to determine if there are any cost savings without having to leave that location.

Online sales are no different: A QR code can link consumers directly to a product ordering system, where checkout is hassle-free and the product is delivered directly to the consumer. This option enables retailers to operate in unique environments where inventory stock would be limited (e.g., sporting events, airports, etc.).

Deals aren't the only thing consumers are using QR codes for; information gathering and feedback play a large role. For those U.S. consumers that use QR codes, 48 percent use it to access additional information about a brand, product or service or to access a website, according to the Morpace Omnibus.

As researchers, we not only view these codes as a means of data dissemination, but also a mechanism for enabling consumers to provide input to the retailer. The utilization of a smartphone enables a consumer to gain/provide instantaneous feedback while being "in the moment."

Currently the technology is out there to have QR codes perform pretty much any function that a retailer/manufacturer/researcher would want ... the issue isn't that. What's holding back QR code adoption is the lack of consumer familiarity. In order for a consumer to be able to use a QR code they must first download software which enables them to do so.

For the "tech savvy" this isn't an issue, but for the majority of consumers this is an extra step that they either don't think about or don't know how to do. The reading software needs to be as standard on a smartphone as calendar or contacts list. Additionally, retailers/manufacturers need to provide education to the consumers around what the QR code will provide them (e.g., deals, information, etc.).

A handful of retailers, restaurants and manufacturers have been able to successfully incorporate QR codes into their marketing mix and have positioned themselves as leaders in this space who are focused on getting "closer" to their customers. Only time will tell if this technology gains more adoption or is replaced by something new.

Kirk Baetens is the vice president of the retail practice at market research firm Morpace.

Read more about digital merchandising.

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