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QR Codes: Can the Technology Still Catch Fire?

QR codes and other similar matrix barcode technologies for mobile phone scanning have had a checkered history. Recent developments, however, have some industry observers saying that use of the technology could still grow quickly.

In some ways, QR codes have strong potential for marketers. The images can quickly direct individuals’ mobile phone browsers to specific webpages and more recently they are being used for electronic payments and for following individuals or organizations on social media.

Marketers are also using QR coupons for sales promotions. When shoppers scan the coupons, they can receive discounts on merchandize.

Last year, advocates of barcode technologies were encouraged by Apple adding a scanner in its phone camera app, reports Customer Think. Prior to that development, mobile phone users were required to download apps before they could scan QR codes, which is believed to have hindered use of the technology.

Snapchat is also playing a role in improving the acceptance of barcode scanning. Snapchat users can follow other users simply by scanning a barcode. Twitter also offers a similar feature and, more recently, Instagram has followed suit by pilot testing what it calls “Nametags,” reports TechCrunch.

Certain Instagram users can now tap features on the company’s webpage that will create QR codes. For social media users, the barcode technology could have many applications. For example, when individuals meet and want to follow each other online, they could scan each other's QR images.

In a similar manner, QR codes could be added to posters or to handbills that are handed out. Businesses could also put their Nametags on their products, such as cereal boxes or milk cartons, to make it easier for consumers to follow their social media posts. 

The general public’s scanning of barcodes, including QR codes, meanwhile, has been growing. According to Customer Think, 34% of U.S. smartphone users have scanned a QR code and 46% of tablet owners have done so.

According to data by Juniper Research, the use of QR coupons is likely to grow rapidly. The firm estimates that nearly 1.3 billion QR coupons were redeemed via mobile last year. That number is expected to increase to 5.3 billion by 2022.

Yet, skepticism over the future success of QR codes lingers. In some instances, brands may not accurately label the nature of a QR code or provide details regarding what website a QR code links to. And, administrative blunders can give individuals a negative perception of the technology.

Just recently, a parent with a child by her side scanned a QR code that claimed to link to instructions for using playground equipment at a Catholic elementary school in Canada. The QR code, however, took mobile phone users to a porn site instead, reports Edmonton CTV News.

The company that provided the playground equipment apparently no longer owned the url associated with the QR code. Instead, a third party had acquired the url. Needless to say, the school has since removed the sign.

Many individuals, furthermore, may be reluctant to scan a QR code because they see little value in doing so. In a recent article from What They Think, a Millennial maintains that QR codes are a red flag indicating that a digital sales pitch will happen if the barcode is scanned. The article concludes, however, that sometimes QR codes can link to recipes, online surveys or other interesting destinations.

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