The QR
code 
paradox

Why haven’t QR codes grown exponetially as was expected?



By Prashant Vadgaonkar (Tech Troniks)

Published: Sat 25 Aug 2012, 5:16 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:51 AM

WHEN THE AMERICAN restaurant chain, Boston Market launched its “The unofficial sponsor of summer” promotional campaign to attract the city’s new lot of young, tech-savvy population into their outlets, it did not imagine that the campaign, which involved the use of QR codes in the restaurants, would go on to be named one of best QR campaigns.

The campaign essentially engaged visitors to the restaurant to use their smartphones to scan Quick Response codes in the outlet, thus making them eligible for attractive sweepstakes. The restaurant was betting on the fact that the newer generation, armed with their smartphones, would visit the restaurant in droves, brought in by the lure of the sweepstakes and once there, would fall in love with their offerings. QR played a key role in the campaign.

It is intriguing therefore, when the usage of QR codes, expected to grow exponentially in the past couple of years on account of a virtual explosion in the smartphone business, does not seem to have performed as it was anticipated to. A lot of marketers out there had anticipated that 2011 would be the year of QR codes which would be lapped by up an industry due to its attractive advantages such as low cost, ease of access, affordability and the obvious benefit of being able to synergize the offline or physical world with the virtual world. But while there is encouraging growth, there is not nearly enough and that comes from a couple of downsides to using it.

For the uninitiated, QR code is a 2d matrix bar code which can be simply scanned by smartphones and are a simple alternative to conventional bar codes. The scanned QR code once “read” by the smartphone carries out tasks such as redirecting to a website, shooting off a text / sms message or providing detailed point to point directions using the resident maps software in the smartphone etc. With the proliferation of smartphones, most of the consumers are now armed with “pocket barcode readers” (in the form of downloaded apps, of course!). With this background, it’s a no-brainer that QR codes are expected to gain popularity.

QR code comprises of a grid of black dots arranged in a square configuration on a white background – with squares at the corners of the box. Unlike the old traditional bar code which was designed to be scanned physically by a handheld scanner, the QR code is detected by a smartphone. When the code is read by the smartphone app, the data such as position of four distinctive squares at the corners of the image, image size, orientation, angle of viewing is gathered and converted to binary numbers. The information that QR codes typically holds comprises of data, alphanumeric, bytes or binary! The flexibility of the above permutations makes the application of the code really versatile – right from ticketing to tracking of goods and inventory. But the real strength and power of QR codes is most exploited by advertises and marketers.

There are many sites that allow QR code creation for free. One simply need to provide the URL you want to send people to, the message to be shared, or any other details to put into the QR code. While QR codes are used in Facebook business pages, email marketing etc but it is primarily used in the physical world wherein the code is placed in a direct mail piece or on a pizza delivery carton or promotional flyers. QR codes can be used in branding too, with some tweaking.

QR Codes can be used in Google’s mobile Android operating system, iOS devices [iPhone/iPod/iPad] via third party barcode scanners, Nokia’s Symbian operating system and in BlackBerry devices.

The biggest challenge of QR codes is that they are primarily useful in the physical world only. Typically, the consumer would scan the code and expect to be directed to some other website or portal. This can happen only if the code is present on physical media and not on a billboard on a freeway or in subways or in cafés – areas which typically don’t provide you WiFi or some form of connectivity. And that is inhibiting the explosion of this simple yet powerful tool!

QR codes were invented way back in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary and which were designed for the automotive industry and were used to track vehicles during the manufacturing and assembly process. Meanwhile, Denso Wave is working on what it calls “the next gen QR codes,” including versions that are smaller and which can securely transmit encrypted data.

One needs to just wait and watch what the new developments are going to unveil by way of features and benefits that can unleash its inherent potential…

Prashant_Vadgaonkar@syntelinc.com


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