No One Scans QR Codes (apart from the thousands of people who do)

I love QR codes. I'm unashamed about that. I've helped business and charities use them effectively. I think QR codes are doing pretty well thank-you-very-much.

Yet, for some reason, those little black and white squares are really divisive. Some people seem to hate them with an irrational and burning passion.

Perhaps it's because QR codes are free to generate - so there's not huge profit in them. Perhaps because they only require black ink, they're ridiculously cheap to print - unlike, say, NFC. Perhaps it's just because QR codes weren't created by hipsters in skinny jeans, working out of an office in Shoreditch?

Who knows? One thing is for sure, normal people love them!

Yeah, that's right! Sure, there are snarky blogs which decry QR's lack of popularity, but the facts don't bear that out.

I'm not going to show you "sentiment analysis" or some Gartner-style "hype cycle" - I'm going to deal in cold, hard, facts.

The supermarket chain Tesco has been running this ClubCard promotion in its stores over the last few weeks.

So, the Sixty-Four-Thousand-Dollar Question is.... How many people scanned the QR code?

The clue is in the question. That code had 64,000 scans since Tesco started the promotion! It's still gathering over 6,000 per month.

Now, that may not be huge considering the customer-base of Tesco - but it's still a significant number of people. Not all of them will be mobile developers with high-end phones. The cross section of the population who shop at Tesco seem to like scanning QR codes.

What's also interesting is the handset demographics of people who scan codes. How does reality match up with our perceptions of what's hot and what's not?

  • A slim majority of Tesco scanners are using iOS - 53%.
  • The Android OS accounts for a third of scans. That's good - but not the runaway success that some have hoped for.
  • Once mighty, the BlackBerry Operating System is clinging on with 10%. Perhaps it's enough of a foothold for the Canadians to stage a comeback - but I doubt it.
  • As for Windows 7? Let's be generous and call it 2.5%. Even though Microsoft is pushing the platform hard, the public just aren't buying it.

This Tesco campaign is only one data point among many. QR codes are going from strength to strength in the UK and, until NFC falls dramatically in price and has pervasive hardware, they will continue to be loved by customers.

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14 thoughts on “No One Scans QR Codes (apart from the thousands of people who do)”

  1. says:

    I guess the problem is that it can be difficult to get people to install QR reader on their phones. I doubt that many even know how to operate app stores on their phones. QR works a lot better in a technical context (ie. you target just certain kind of people). It's not that mainstream yet although it's ancient tech. Hardware has fortunately caught up.

    I bet QR would be more approachable if it would just work out of box. As far as I can see that's the only major problem before it can really break through. If you can tell people just to "point and shoot", it will work. Anything extra and they just might not bother or know how to.

    1. The billions of downloads from app stores would seem to disagree with you. Windows Phone 7 has a QR built in. And, on Android, "Barcode Scanner" is the 49th most popular free app - beating Hotmail, Fruit Ninja, and several Angry Birds games.

      1. Hi,

        I am not saying QR cannot work in large scale. A certain fraction will always be interested. A percent out of million people or more is still a lot of people. 🙂

        My analysis is a bit biased geographically. I wouldn't be surprised if the situation would be a bit different in more developed markets. Here in Finland people tend to be a bit reserved and conservative when it comes to tech (kind of ironic, eh? 🙂 ) except for that hip minority that always has the newest gadget no matter what.

  2. Dave3000 says:

    You've missed the only relevant piece of data : how many people used the other 2 methods? I've never used a QR code in my life, neither have my mates - we thought they were just for hipsters in skinny jeans, working out of an office in Shoreditch!

    1. 1) False dichotomy. 70,000 scans is still 70,000 scans. Even if there were a million texts in, it still doesn't remove the fact that tens of thousands of people used that one method.
      2) The plural of anecdote is not data. I bet none of your friends drink Bacardi Breezers - yet you wouldn't deny that they're popular (I assume that's what the yoof of today drink!)

  3. Mark Power says:

    Working in the education sector it's not the QR code itself that drives me up the wall, it's the idiotic hype and spin around them.

    Blog post upon blog post of "100 things you can do with a QR Code!" – which are all, basically, linking to a webpage where the actual content is. So those people should really write posts around "100 things you can put on a webpage" 😉

    So it's the 'educational practitioner' trying so hard to sound cutting edge spouting off about them that gets on my nerves. "Yes dear… it's a URL shortener. Very good. Well done" 😉

  4. Mark Power says:

    Ah yes… not to mention those people that then slap them on something but link to web content that isn't optimised for the small screen of a mobile device. Applying a QR code isn't enough simply by itself. More people should think about the next stage of the process … the content it is linking to.

  5. AG says:

    I think big-box stores like Home Depot and Walmart will be among those to benefit the most. Why, because while they have tons of cheaper products on display and for sale immediately, it's damn hard to find anyone to give you anything more than basic facts. They tend to hire high-school grads who have to spend most of their time stocking items. So a lot of their comments are BS, and the average shopper just has to stare at the package, read the descriptions, and trust their intuition.

    This summer I was in Home Depot looking for a microwave, of which they had about 20 on display. I had a lot of questions, but the clerk was helping others. When I got to him, he then had to go back to his desk and pull out the catalog spec sheet to answer some basic questions.

    The same thing happened a few minutes later while I kept browsing. But this time I also noticed the QR code on most of the product labels. I thought, what the heck, and pulled out my phone and scanned. It took me right to that item on the manufacturers web site, which had all the features, specs, etc. instantly in my hand. Wow! I became suddenly an informed shopper and had no more use for the salesperson. Just that one experience sold me on the obvious advantages of QR codes. And while QR codes on a roof, highway billboard, subways, or someone's bald head are pretty silly, I'm now seeing them posted on many technical products in stores like Best Buy and building suppliers. Free to make and free to scan, what's not to like?

  6. Mindhost says:

    QR codes are getting more and more popular, not only with the big stores and companys, but.. I heard of an urban guerilla activity, printing out QR codes (since it is so cheap, everybody can do it) and replacing them on billboards to be linked to website with critical content about the product advertised or just plain nonsense.. If there is people thinking about this way of "underground propaganda" that means, there is people using the QR codes to make their work worth it.. isn't it?

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