When Mobio, “a leading mobile technology firm,” proclaims that QR code usage has risen nearly 5,000 percent in the last year, take it with a grain of salt. The power of small numbers is at work.
Breathless news like this, and blog posts proclaiming 2011 the Year of the QR code, and Fast Company advice on 13 more ways to use QR code has me scratching my head. Some even say “QR Codes Could Change Print as We Know It.” Really? Print has been around a long time. How long will QR codes endure?
Invasion of the QR codes
We’re seeing giant QR codes on billboards, store windows, and even on urinals! This is clearly a case where the medium has become the message. When the hype ends, there’s often less then meets the eye.
Walking through the Portland airport, I noticed the Columbia Store has QR codes on its windows to extend its shirt display. Huh? Since when do I care enough about a shirt to snap a picture of a QR code? Especially when I can walk into the store, see and touch the shirt, and actually buy it?
The problem with QR codes
Smart phone users in the US must still install special software to read the codes, get a clear photo which may take more than one shot, and wait for their phone to boot up a web browser and render a page. This seems like a lot of time and effort unless you really know where you’re going.
Who currently uses QR codes and why
Only a minority of smart phone users actually use QR codes, and much of this use is due to novelty. Let’s consider Japan, where QR codes were once the rage, but have now settled into the background.
A study from NetAsia Research showed that 76 percent of the Japanese have (or to be more precise “know they have”) the ability to access QR codes. Obviously some use the facility more or less than others, but the average across this group is 1.24 times per week. That’s not profligate; it’s a golden bullet.
The main reasons given for scanning the codes is also illuminating. There are really only three: 31.6 percent to use a coupon, 30.9 percent to apply for a special promotion and 22.7 percent to obtain more information on a product. This matches current US research that shows top usage by people who said they’ve used a QR code was to secure a coupon, deal, or discount (53 percent). Source: AdRants, Steve Hall, Mar. 22, 2011.
The future of QR codes and control
Behind the shelves in the US, there is a power play underway by retailers who want to restrict packages entering their store from having QR codes that take visitors anywhere but to their store’s own landing pages. Pretty smart. If you were Walmart and Home Depot, wouldn’t you want all those codes focusing the buying experience on your brand and under your control? We’ll talk about this more later.
The reality is that QR codes may be just a transitional technology that is quickly replaced.
With what? I’m seeing Near Field Communications catching 0n for payment in Europe, and Google’s betting on this big. Google recently dumped QR codes from their Google Places program. Coverage of this begins with the words:
Only a year ago QR codes looked like the next big thing…
By the time some see the bandwagon, there are more people riding it than watching. Today’s game-changing QR code can become tomorrow’s pet rock.
And while there are creative uses for QR codes that I love, they aren’t going to change the planetary orbit. Its not the “Year of QR Codes.” But it may be the year of Orbees. Ask any nine year old; they know.
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