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Author Niall Murphy
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Despite various ad industry experts denouncing QR codes over the last few years, with the likes of Ad Age branding them “history” in 2013, the outlook looks a lot different today.

Consumer engagement with QR codes has actually been on the rise, with statistics showing a steady increase in scanning among US internet users over the last four years. And recent developments from mobile operating systems and social networks offer plenty of evidence that QR codes won’t be going away anytime soon—quite the contrary, in fact.

In June, Apple unveiled its soon-to-be-released iOS 11, which will include automated QR code recognition natively in the Camera app, meaning that all consumers have to do is point their phones and tap. The announcement followed news from Google earlier in the year around the roll-out of its built-in QR code scanning functionality in the Chrome mobile web browser, allowing consumers to easily scan codes without the need for a third-party app.

While the new features may not seem like breakthroughs, these steps to remove friction in the scanning process lay the groundwork for a substantial increase in Western consumer engagement with QR codes—just as the technology has taken off in China thanks largely to the domination of mobile app WeChat and its nearly 1 billion monthly active users.

In fact, it was WeChat’s code-scanning camera that inspired Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel to reimagine the QR code for his social network. In 2015, Snapchat launched Snapcodes, allowing users to add friends by scanning them with the app’s camera. The company went on to further their use throughout the platform, letting users scan a Snapcode to unlock filters and animated lenses or to open a Discover channel. In the last year, Snapchat has launched the capability for users to create a Snapcode linking to any website of their choice so that scanning within Snapchat opens a mobile website without needing to leave the app. As WIRED reports, users have taken to the added features, scanning 8 million codes per day.

Facebook, too, has been integrating QR codes into its user experience. Not only does the social network’s Messenger feature have a QR code option for adding users, but according to TechCrunch, Facebook is currently testing a “Rewards” feature that allows app users to scan personalized QR codes to access discounts or offers when shopping in-person. And more recently, Spotify has taken advantage of QR code technology to launch a new experience called Spotify Codes, which was quietly introduced on the app in April this year and offers a new way for users to instantly stream music or share songs with friends nearby.

As mobile operating systems make it easier for consumers to scan QR codes, it will be these social codes that educate consumers and make the act of scanning a natural behavior.

The growing ubiquity of QR codes opens up a world of possibilities for brands, especially around transparency, as the Grocery Manufacturing Association has demonstrated with the SmartLabel initiative. Through a QR code, a brand can establish a direct connection with end-consumers, easily delivering product information, personalized experiences and exclusive content. Taking it one step further, by linking an on-pack trigger with a unique software identity in the cloud for each product, businesses can leverage that consumer interaction to access valuable data and insights, all while powering additional digital product lifecycle applications, including supply chain traceability, direct-to-consumer and more.

As QR codes continue to catch on in the West, brands will be given greater abilities to establish direct customer relationships and drive new digital applications. Watch this space.

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