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How COVID-19 Helped Make QR Codes the Comeback Kid

When I first heard of the QR code in 2007, I was beyond excited about the new ways we could interact with customers. The iPhone had just launched, mobile phone cameras were everywhere, and the future looked bright with users snapping pics of these square black codes anywhere they could find them. All customers needed to do was point their mobile phone camera at the QR code, and they would have instantaneous access to whatever content or information brands could serve up.

Customers weren’t quite so quick to jump onto the QR code bandwagon, though. For starters, there was the (oftentimes buggy) app to download so cameras could read the QR code. Wireless speeds were clunky at best, and most of the websites the QR codes pointed to weren’t well designed for mobile phones. Sadly, adoption and use of the QR codes were minimal and sporadic.

The QR code keeps on keeping on.

But despite it all, the QR code has continued to grow. In 2017, Apple’s iOS update included the ability for users to scan QR codes right from the camera app, and Android smartphones have made it a built-in feature—no more downloads. The ability to scan QR codes is now native functionality in most mobile phones. This has made all the difference.

In China, WeChat made it a built-in feature in the app for scanning contacts, getting to a URL quickly, and making mobile payments. In Korea, Tesco launched a virtual store—a billboard, essentially—in high-traffic areas where customers could shop by scanning the codes of the items they wanted to buy. Airlines are using QR code boarding passes in their mobile apps. Other apps have built code scanning into their core features: Snapchat uses Snapcodes as a way to quickly add a new friend, unlock filters and lenses, and connect to exclusive content. Venmo QR codes let you add and pay friends on the app. And Instagram just this spring released Instagram Codes that launch a user’s profile from any camera app.

A South Korean subway station is transformed into a Tesco grocery store via QR codes.

Welcome to a touchless world.

Believe it or not, COVID-19 has helped fuel the comeback and growing use of the QR code even more. In a world where we aren’t touching anything anymore, QR codes put totally touch-free information and experiences into a customer’s hands.

For example, restaurants are using the codes so diners can get menus on mobile phones and use self-checkout at the end of the meal. Out of the more than one million restaurants in the US, 52% of them have already switched to QR code menus, and the others are catching up.1

Companies like Presto are helping restaurants deliver contactless dining experiences.

The healthcare industry is using them so patients can check in quickly or get more information on a condition or a medication. The codes are also being used in the automotive industry. Mercedes-Benz uses the Rescue Sticker, a QR code that helps first responders find out the best way to help victims in a crash. And car dealers are using them on the lot to showcase vehicle information.

In June, Hulu launched GatewayGo, connecting the TV screen to mobile devices.

Traditional gets interactive.

In June of this year, Hulu announced GatewayGo, a way for viewers to connect and interact with brands while watching their favorite content.2 Users scan a code that comes up side by side with an ad and directs them to offers and information on their mobile phone. Burger King created a game for viewers this spring, giving away free Whoppers to those who could scan the QR code that was floating around the TV screen, Pong style.3 Amazon’s new eco-friendly boxes delivered an augmented reality experience during the Halloween timeframe. Users could draw on the box and then scan with the Amazon AR app to see their drawing come to life. Brands like Hershey’s and Unilever are using SmartLabel QR codes on packaging to deliver information to customers—nutrition information, allergens, recipes, usage directions, and even ingredient sourcing.

In April, Burger King ran the Whopper QR TV ads where customers could catch the moving QR code to win a Whopper.

The future looks quick and touchless.

The QR code is a quick and simple way for brands and companies to deepen engagement with their customers. It’s easy to add a QR code to a print ad, direct mail piece, or packaging that links to a landing page, a lead generation form, or an app. The QR code becomes a way for customers to connect to brands instantly without needing to type in a URL, or search for an app, or try to read the tiny print on a package. In 2021, brands should be on the lookout for how they can incorporate this “old” technology to connect with customers in new and exciting ways.

 

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1. Apoorva Hegde, “QR Code Statistics 2021: 50 QR Code Statistics You Should Know!,” Beaconstac blog, December 1, 2020, https://blog.beaconstac.com/2019/12/qr-code-statistics/.

2. “Hulu Extends Viewer First Ad Experiences with Launch of GatewayGo, Connecting Viewers to Their Favorite Brands with Personalized Offers,” Hulu Press website, June 22, 2020, https://press.hulu.com/news/2020/06/22/hulu-viewer-first-ad-experiences-gatewaygo-personalized-offers/.

3. “Burger King | QR Code,” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=656F1mY_k3A.