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Do QR codes have a future in Europe and the US?

QR codes were developed in Japan and are already very popular in that country. They have also struck a cord with consumers in South Korea. However, both the European and U.S. markets have struggled to adopt the technology.

Initially, there don’t seem to be any clear reasons for that, but when you take a closer look at how we behave as consumers, then you can start to realise why QR codes perform differently in various countries.

Firstly, both the Japanese and South Korean markets are much more technologically advanced than their European or North American counterparts. Because QR codes require consumers to own a smartphone with a special app installed to read it, it does make sense that a more tech-savvy society people will be more at ease with such developments. Unfortunately, apart from some pockets, neither the UK nor U.S. consumers seem to be on the same level of technological advancement at the moment.

When it comes to sales and marketing consumers need to be able to quickly and easily understand the message being communicated to them. If marketers use technology which people are not used to, then these messages will be lost. The novelty factor can often help, but it seems right now that there is too little understanding and familiarity with QR codes in the western world, which is hampering their impact.

Another issue is the time it takes marketers and company decision makers to actually implement the codes. Unless several brands start adopting them on a large scale, the consumers will not get exposed to them and the idea will simply not reach its potential.

Retailers also have a big part to play in this. In the U.S. some of the biggest shopping chains are experimenting with the codes, which will surely be helpful to both their staff members as well as shoppers. But we are yet to see how much of an impact this practice will have.

QR codes can be used for a variety of purposes. Some companies try to use them as a link between their physical stores and websites; others employ them to allow consumers to find out more details about individual products and promotions. They are also widely utilized as carriers of people’s contact details, as replacements of or an addition to business cards.

It is also possible to customise each code by incorporating into it a brand logo or anything else that can make it look distinctive, which is yet another appealing feature.

The potential is clearly there for QR codes to become a powerful marketing weapon, but that is often not enough. It seems right now that unless a brand comes up with a campaign which uses the codes and becomes really successful, then the initial promise may never materialise on our shores.

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Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 05 September, 2011, 13:46Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I think its all about exposure and familiarity.  Mobile users will happily continue to text to shortcodes because its familiar, and it takes critical mass to shift that behaviour to another method.

QR codes are great - but as you say you need a QR reader app and they are not all great!  Also, the marketeers are being conservative and just using codes to link to the homepage on a website - boring.  The links need to be deep links that take you to the meat of the topic - not just to the brand website.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 06 September, 2011, 15:14Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

As a provider of a business card QR code solution, we find that the use of QR codes by advertisers is on the rise sharply but their adoption by consumers is still quite weak. Like @Finextra Member, we also notice that the need for downloading and installing a QR Code Reader App on mobile phones is a major barrier for adoption. We've seen adoption improve when the QR code clearly describes what to expect by scanning it as well as links to landing pages, special offers and discount coupons rather than to the homepage of websites, most of whose URLs can be typed in relatively easily into a mobile browser. 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 07 September, 2011, 09:33Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Had to look up 'QR Code' on Wikipedia!  However I use them quite regularly here in Switzerland - for flights (Swiss) and for trains (SBB).  They are used as part of a electronic ticket.  Very handy.