A QR Code Renaissance In The USA?

James Gray

October 23 2018

QR QR codes use cases

QR Codes are an incredibly easy, quick, and cost effective means of delivering valuable, context-specific information and services to people – or as we like to say, to connect the physical world to digital experiences. In my estimation, the uses for QR codes are nearly endless. To get a sense for how QR Codes can be used, you need only look to Japan, China, and throughout Asia, where QR Codes are seemingly woven into the fabric of everyday life. QR Codes have taken off throughout Asia for three primary reasons:

1) The majority of people connecting to the internet do so with mobile devices 2) Navigating to internet sites by scanning a QR Code is much easier than typing a URL in character-based languages. 3) Popular consumer technology companies like WeChat and Alibaba embraced the technology early, effectively driving people to use them

WeChat’s use of QR Codes to let users make connections on their app is probably the best known example of a company driving usage and adoption of the technology in Asia, but use of them started in the 1990s. Another behemoth, Alibaba, started using QR Codes in advertising which saw huge response rates and also for product information and tracking, which is paying big dividends in customer loyalty. A quick walk down the street today in any Chinese city or town proves just how ubiquitous QR Codes have become. Here’s a quick sample, direct from the street.

Store window advertisements
Restaurants – The QR Code links to the restaurant's app and allows patrons to order.
Bike Rentals
Print Ads (digital ads too...)
And...Bug Nets (?!?)

This sample is small, but it was collected within a 30 minute timeframe and has been pared down for the sake of space on this page. The bottom line is that in China, QR Codes are everywhere and being used by everyone. Others like Andreessen Horowitz are tracking QR usage in China and in 2017, published a great list of active QR uses. From identifying pets and people, to giving and collecting funds and providing additional information about products and services all of the examples provided seem applicable to the US market but QR Codes just haven't taken off here – until now anyway. QR Codes made a big push into the US in the early 2010s but fell flat. What was supposed to be the next big thing, fizzled quickly. Why? A few primary reasons are: 1) The process of scanning codes was not native, and thus provided difficult, on our mobile devices 2) A smaller portion of our population accessed the internet with mobile devices than in China, where mobile access was and still is predominant 3) Our use of QR Codes was thought by many to lack creativity. They were mostly used to redirect people to websites from ads. But now, with more Americans accessing the internet with mobile devices and with the manufacturers of those devices seemingly understanding the potential of QR Codes and making scanning them easier, the time may be ripe for a rebound. In iOS 11, for example, Apple made scanning QR Codes native in its camera. Proof that people in the US are taking notice and advantage of this progression in functionality can be found just by looking around. We've been collecting QR Codes uses we come across in our daily lives for a few months now. The following is a small sample of what we've found.

The Gas Pump (To pay for your gas)
Product Assistance
Medical Information (from our US hospital before traveling abroad)
School Work

And the list could go on. It would seem that a QR Code renaissance in the US is well under way. Count us among the people who think it is long overdue!