5 Reasons Why QR Codes Are Worse Than Useless

5 Reasons Why QR Codes Are Worse Than Useless

It seems like everywhere you look there’s a QR code waiting to be scanned. If you look at common products you find at the supermarket, you’ll see QR codes all over the place (Proctor and Gamble seem especially obsessed). Are QR codes good for anything, or are they essentially unsightly wastes of space?

We’re not ones to sit on the fence – Here’s the top five reasons why QR codes are mostly worthless.

Nobody has QR Scanners

Scan Me, if you can

Scan Me, if you can

The first reason why QR codes aren’t particularly useful is that there aren’t that many people with QR code scanners. A lot of people have smartphones, which can scan QR codes, but can only do so with a specialty application, which people only have if they know they want to scan a QR code.

Only 19% of consumers have ever scanned a QR code.

If your customers have to download an app before they can actually scan the QR code, you are putting an unnecessary barrier between them and your marketing material.

It Takes too Long To Scan a QR Code

Let’s say your customers do have a QR code scanner app installed on their smartphone. In order to scan the code they have to open the app, point their camera at the code, wait for it to focus, then wait for the app to recognize what it’s looking at. Scanning QR codes takes a long time.

The supposed benefit of a QR code is to save time. If that’s the case, then one wonders which is actually faster: scanning a QR code or doing a manual web search. In my (highly unscientific) tests they came out about the same. The problem for QR codes is that you need an app, whereas you don’t need an app to search the Internet.

No Information Collection

Besides the time it takes to scan a QR code, there are logical disadvantages for marketers that you should be aware of. The biggest is that scanning a QR code is a one-way transaction. Information goes to the customer, while little actionable information is transmitted back to you.

If you use SMS direct response on the other hand, you can collect the customer’s phone number, which you can use for re-marketing purposes in the future. If you use email, you get their email address, and so on. With QR codes, you get no useful permission to re-engange that customer with future marketing efforts.


This may just be a personal observation, but QR codes aren’t aesthetically pleasing. They don’t really fit in with anything else unless you count a bar code, which is also unsightly.

This is especially a factor when you’re placing the QR code on your website. Where do you put it? It seems no matter where it’s placed it stands out like a sore thumb, which is the last thing you want.

Public Unawareness

What is that broken barcode on my wine bottle?

The last strike against QR codes isn’t that people don’t have the ability to use them, or the time it takes to scan one. Instead, it’s the simple fact that most people don’t know what a QR Code is or how to use it.

Ask most people (who don’t work in marketing or technology) what a QR code is and the only thing you’ll get from them is a blank stare.

Any Hope for QR?

In order for QR codes to be useful, they have to become mainstream enough that everyone knows what they are and how to use them. That will propel the major smartphone manufacturers to build in QR code scanning capability into their next smartphones.

Unnless all of those (not too likely) things happen, QR codes will just be an unsightly blemish on the history of the Internet.

  • Hugh

    Useful as boarding passes. And not all customers want to be re engaged with.

  • Paul Emm

    Here in the U.S. and Canada, QR codes are the “now” and the future. It is always interesting when I read articles by under qualified authors that would have zero use for a QR code but become experts on why they dont work. If they “dont work” why is Mercedez, GM, Home Depot, Heinz, countless branding companies ( P&G as mentioned in the article) American Airlines etc etc…In fact, there is a new medic alert bracelet coming quickly onto the market that first responders will scan with their QR code scanner and will instantly provide the patients complete medical history.ALL FROM THE BRACELET!!!!. QR’s dead? no sir…alive and well. I run an avdertising company that incorporates QR codes into a “scan to win” format.. so, unlike the article states, not only do we run “scan to win a free iPad2” contests and get countless scans, we also collect the data that the “scanner” inputs to enter to win. We then provide this information back to our clients. I also find it funny when people say.. ” nobody know’s what they are..”… my response to those people are, you didnt know what the internet was at one point either.. Nor what tweeting was..texting codes… As smartphones continue to grow, so will the QR future. Lastly, I read an interesting article years ago that spoke about including “directions” above or beside the QR code telling the consumer what will happen when they scan it. Scan to visit my website, Scan to like our facebook page,Scan to win!, instead of an ad with a lonely QR code where the author is right in one regard… nobody will know what to do. Cheers.

    • Thanks for your comments Paul. Our real concern here is that, in all the time that QR codes have been with us, it’s almost impossible to find case studies that show a strong impact on a business’ bottom line.

      I know plenty of big brands do use them, but as my mother used to say “If all the other buys put their hand in the fire would you do too?”

      New technologies like Apps and Social Media have all proven that they can have a significant, measurable impact on profits, either directly or indirectly.

      If I’m honest, I’ve never seen a case study showing real revenue growth (or new customers, or lowered costs or some bottom line KPI) in any meaningful way from QR codes.

  • One good point you make is that mobile operating systems would need to make QR scanning capabilities native. Once this is done, and scanning a code becomes as simple as Phone -> Camera -> Action, QR codes will be poised to go viral. We CAN enjoy tracking and data collection by setting up a domain structures that captures user data before redirecting. QR codes can be creatively and artistically implemented to lessen the “eye-sore” factor and in some cases, even create modern trendy ad art. The ability to communicate with user’s digital hand held devices via print media is a technology that enables so much potential. Additionally, QR codes offer an incredible solution to adding your contact profile to someone else’s phone by placing it on the back of your business card. No more manual entry. QR codes are definitely alive and well, it’s up to creatives like you and me to figure out how to implement them and, as you said, increase the bottom line.

  • David D

    Wait a minute….. Everyone is acting like QR codes are some new. This is old technology used in a different format. We used QR codes for tracking parts in the manufacturing in early 90’s. The use for QR codes will be endless, it takes up less space than a bar code. With the evolution of smart phones its know telling what can be done with them now… It would not surprise me if we start to use them as direct response marketing. I use them for Real Estate alone with SMS messaging. Everything is useless to those who can not find a use for something. Be creative, be free and most of all think for yourself! People comment are what they are. Opinions (including mine) are let arms and legs we all have them.

  • Cédric

    You say:

    “Lastly, I read an interesting article years ago that spoke about including “directions” above or beside the QR code telling the consumer what will happen when they scan it. Scan to visit my website, Scan to like our facebook page,Scan to win!, instead of an ad with a lonely QR code where the author is right in one regard… nobody will know what to do. Cheers.”

    If I want to go to a website, I will just type in the company in my browser bar. That takes only 3 to 5 seconds. If I want to like a Facebook page, I will just browse to that Facebook page. If I want to participate in a contest, I will just go to the coke.com/win website…

    QR-codes in marketing are a solution to a non-existing problem. With internet access being omnipresent, no one really needs the QR step.

  • Hi, it takes less than 10 seconds to scan a QR Code which is 3 times faster than manually entering an URL in the browser. This article gives a good comparison:https://blog.qrd.by/2015/09/06/advantage-qr-codes-scanning-is-faster-than-typing/

    • John Stuart Mill

      When someone has a QR scanner, knows what they are, and actually give a shit about using them. Read the article, marketers would be better off just making short urls.

      • Lee Dixon

        Short URLs are excellent tools for digital marketing platforms but for product marketing in the physical world, not so much.

        • John Stuart Mill

          So you think it’s better to have a QR code over a short memorable URL? Apologies, but I disagree.

          • TechCertIT

            Try to buy a ‘short’ URL now, short URL’s are hard to find at a low price. Domain resellers & ‘squatters’ have bought most logical names. 5-letter URLs have been gone for years now. I have clients that are using QR codes due to a terrible URL they must use. Also, Snapchat, Music venues & numerous msg apps have been bringing them back.

            Real commercial apps will stick with NFC from here out though. The major players love NFC security & convenience, but QR codes address issues better for small business needs. The new trend is for ‘searched’ domain names to be back-ordered or squatted. I have searched for a domain to buy, few days later it was bought and up for sale for $1200.00.

            Now in China reselling lucky number URLs is all the rage…selling for as much as 7 figures! Listed among the DNJournal.com top domain name sales of 2013 are 114.com for $2.1 million, 88888.com for $245,000 and 1001.com for $100,000.

    • Reddy

      Lol, Peter, nobody scans QR codes. Nobody. I would rather enter a simple URL than even open an app to scan a code. And since you’re into citing sources, check out the one linked in the sentence “Only 19% of consumers have ever scanned a QR code.” I am one of those 19%, but I don’t even have an app installed to do it anymore, because I’ve literally never felt inclined to other than way back in the day when QR codes were new, and clearly I’m in the vast majority.

      • Robert Spies

        Part of the reason `nobody scans QR-codes’ is they don’t reveal much, and what is presented is not verified and bonded by a third party. There is no limit to the information that can be made available by QR-codes/URI/UPC code look-up. Of course what is made available has to be regulated, and will include mandated information, optional information, etc., largely determined by the `commodity code’ of the particular product. There are many advantages to the consumer with such a system, and little to no cost to sellers. To make sure the system is fully implemented, the WEBpage for each product should include `date of first sale’ and `date of last sale’. It should be illegal to sell product before `date of first sale’, and after date of last sale, unless date of last sale is marked `current product’. This requirement, and the requirement that the information presented be accurate will keep sellers interested in their product WEBpages. The URI/QR/UPC WEBpages are made part of a distributed database, similar to the present Internet. The existing Domain Name System will find the desired product WEBpage as easily as the existing system finds any WEBpage.

        • Sam

          I think you are just referring to the usage of QR codes in one limited environment as a resource lookup. In general they are a signpost with directions to a website or app – which sadly require an app to read.

          If I was rolling out QR codes in print I would include tracking info for my analytics package within the referenced URL ( or URI if you prefer ) and next to it have a URL ( or URI if you prefer ) shortener with the web address with its own tracking code – it would be interesting to compare.

          My guess that with a wide demographic mix you would see at least 10 times as many visitors using the shortened URL ( or URI if you prefer )

          • Robert Spies

            I am referring to QR codes in the grocery industry, as the link I followed to this `sparkpage’ was from a page about labelling of consumer products, particularly food products. So my comment is limited in this sense, yes. However, it is unlimited in the sense that URIs/QR-codes/UPC-codes pointing to a bonded WEBpage, my comment is unlimited; it applies to all products sold to consumers. I think it should be mandatory that there be a WEBpage (or series of WEBpages) for each product available for sale to consumers. However, it would be a pointless waste of time and resources to leave the construction and maintenance of these WEBpages to the manufacturers. They would soon descent to advertising. Instead, there should be bonded and licensed third parties that construct and maintain these product WEBpages and legally verify their content, based on detailed legislation and `commodity codes’ to `stadardize’ the `look and feel’ of the pages. These WEBpages would include record of all changes requested by the manufacturer, and possibly others, with the currently effective information always being displayed `on top’. There would be a `clickable flag’ if any changes had been made since the date of first sale, which would link to a list of the details of each change, including effective date, etc. The third party product WEBpage maintainiers would be supported by user fees paid by the manufacturers. The manufacturers would be required by law to support a product WEBpage (or series of pages), through a third party, for each product they intend to sell to the public. Since all the information to be presented on product WEBpages should already exists at the manufacturer, the actual cost to the manufacturers will be minimal. To `put some teeth’ into the product WEBpage idea, it should be made illegal to sell a product unless a validated WEBpage (or series of pages) is available for it. If errors are reported to the third party, the product cannot be sold until the error is corrected. A similar process is used for `re-calls’. There are more details…

  • Robert Spies

    A QR-code, like a URL/URI, points to a WEBsite. The content of the WEBsite can be changed at will by the maintainer of the WEBsite. QR-codes and URL/URI are unacceptable UNLESS they point to a WEBsite that is operated by a bonded third party. In this case sellers of QR-coded products should be required to furnish material the the third party operator.

    What’s the advantage of a QR-code– or URL/URI — to anyone? Why not just use the UPC code that is far more universally applied to products sold to consumers? A consumer (or anyone) should be able to key-in or automatically read the UPC code from the product — even more easily than using a QR-code or URL/URI. This could open a WEBpage that has lots of information, e.g., manufacturer contact info, distributor contact info, if food, the nutritional values, etc., etc.,etc. Exactly what information is REQUIRED to be available for a particular UPC code should be a function of what the product is, and mandated by law. Also, all such UPC WEBsites should be operated by a bonded third party. Ever seller that uses UPC codes should be required to provide the legally mandated information to the UPC-code WEBsite operator. The UPC-code WEBsite would be able to charge sellers a nominal fee to post their information. It should be made illegal to sell bar-coded items unless there is a valid, associated WEB-page.

    There are many other advantages to the consumer with such a UPC WEBsite system. For home appliances and home electronics, user and installation manuals should be available. In most cases the service information, including parts lists, and contact information for parts suppliers, should be available. The WEBsite should include the date of first sale to consumers, and date of last sale, if the product is no longer sold. If a product is no longer sold, the inclusion of service manuals and related material should be mandatory — for at least ten years after data of last sale plus length of longest warranty.

    The more you think about this approach, the more things advantageous to consumers can be implemented — at small cost to the manufacturer and/or distributor.

    • Reddy

      “QR-codes and URL/URI are unacceptable UNLESS they point to a WEBsite that is operated by a bonded third party. ”

      Your entire point falls down at this sentence, which is plainly untrue. Just because content can change doesn’t mean that a url/website address will. In fact, keep updated info is generally considered a good thing. I’m not at all convinced you have the slightest inclination about what you speak.

      • Robert Spies

        It’s the URI/website content that will change without notice if operated by the seller. The URI/QR-code/UPC-code will not change because it’s printed on the product or its package. There s nothing in my suggestion that suggests the WEBsite information cannot change. As you say, updated information is a `Good Thing’, but only if the new information is verified and bonded. The third party must maintain a log of all changes, that is available to WEBsite users. No company can be trusted to do this, as countless examples show.

  • Mihamina Rakotomandimby

    I find on advantage on QR codes: on cards (visit cards). I spend a lot of time entering a contact in my téléphone adressbook. With QR code it’s faster.

  • Lars Edvart Larsen

    So now that I’ve got myself a phone that I can actually use to scan QR-Codes it turns out nobody uses the damn thing? Bummer!

    • Reddy

      If that’s the reason you bought the phone then your problems go alot further than not having any QR codes to scan.

  • zombietag

    love how people are still defending QR codes even in the face of these overwhelming statistics about how terrible they are

    • Lee Dixon

      Its not the code that’s terrible its the delivery and ease of use. If every cell phone came with a QR scanner they make sense, but who’s going to fight that fight other than marketers. When looking at QR codes to drive traffic to specific products while browsing a store, it’s an excellent tool.

      • zombietag

        QR codes are basically terrible. they do work in very limited situations for non-marketing uses, sure. i would say even with a built in QR code reader, theyre still butt-ugly and take up a lot of space on media. more than its worth when 95% of their use is just to direct you to a website or email anyways

  • Daniel Jadick

    Collect consumer email and phone numbers, then send them to your website or send them a coupon. This works with or without a QR code. http://www.cliikin.com
    What do you think about this?

  • David Bennett

    Wow, this article is so narrow-minded. QR codes are great for non-device-to-device session establishment and device-to-device session transfer. They also include reliable error correction. I have used them many times for this. Perhaps you just don’t get it. This is like saying UPC labels or 3of9 barcodes are useless. You’re just not a creative thinker and that’s OK.

    • code47

      QR codes are nice but there are a lot of issues with implementation for starters i think android and ios need to integrate scanning feature with a visit now or remind me later feature. this would help remove friction in the process of getting people to use QR codes.
      Another thing is abuse of QR codes by people with websites that aren’t mobile ready which may lead to bad experience for the users and thus keeping hem form using QR codes the next time.

  • Anthony Steele

    QR Codes are widely used in Japan. Bus stops have a QR code that will direct you to the information page for the stop you are at. You can get information such as next scheduled bus, how late it is and how many stops away it is now.
    Some shops only have a giant QR code for their store front.
    We use QR codes on our monthly newsletters to deliver our latest YouTube playlist parents of our young learners. I can actually track the usage of the QR code and it is very high.

  • Stuart Verschoyle

    one word, WeChat