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.

Unsightly

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Hugh says:

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

  2. Paul Emm says:

    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.

    • Peter Tanham says:

      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.

  3. 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.

  4. David D says:

    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.

  5. Cédric says:

    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.

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