The QR Code: Tool or Blemish?

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The Quick Response (QR) Code. It’s that funky little box that’s been appearing everywhere, from flyers, to shoeboxes, all over malls even to billboards (at least in Portland, Oregon). It’s the tool that bridges the gap between a physical object and the ethereal world that is the Internet for the 53% of mobile phone user who have internet-capable smartphones.
Until recently, I thought they were pretty much a new standard technology of directing consumers from a physical piece to your website, and I was surprised when a colleague in my industry said “QR codes are dead.” A research project was started! But are they bad? Are they good? Most importantly, are they relevant?

Reputation is Everything:

After reading the unexpected history of the QR Code (I was surprised to find that they were invented almost 20 years ago), searches on the overall opinion of the tool yielded a few detractors, one even going so far as to make a list of “9 Reasons QR Codes are Bad for Your Brand.” There’s even an opinion that the QR code should be replaced by apps (I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t WANT to download an app to order a pizza or to look at a company’s inventory read an article).
Statistics show that people DO scan the codes, so why are people dismissing the technology? Because with QR Codes, as with other tools, if it’s broken right out of the box, it’s not going to fix anything. So, it is entirely possible that people question the validity of a QR code because a good majority of companies, even major ones, aren’t using them correctly to begin with.

Was it Done Right? How to Tell:

Lucky for me (and for anyone questioning the efficacy of the QR Code), finding the answer is easy. No, not with Google, I’m talking about going out! Go shopping! If you’re in an area with a major chain, like Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer or if you go a mall with major chains, I guarantee you’ll see QR Codes. Just ask yourself a few objective questions you can ask to determine if what you’re seeing is a good placement of a QR Code:

  • Is cell phone signal or an internet openly available? Y/N
  • Is the QR code scannable? Y/N
  • Does the surrounding design makes you want to scan the code? Why or why not?
  • Once scanned, does it take you somewhere relevant? Y/N

Good Execution:

Trimet QR

A great example would be the use of the QR Code at Trimet bus stops in Portland, Oregon. Let’s see how it stands up to the line of questioning I’ve created:

  • Is cell phone signal or an internet openly available? Yes – Bus stops are mostly out in the open, which means the average smart phone has signal.
  • Is the QR code scannable? Mostly yes – It is on a vertical flat surface, which is makes it easy to position your phone, but the sign is covered with slightly reflective plastic, which interferes slightly.
  • Does the surrounding design makes you want to scan the code? Why or why not? Yes, because there is a lot of information on the sign, and I scanned it with the hope that I would be taken to more simplified information.
  • Once scanned, does it take you somewhere relevant? Yes – The QR Code takes you to the schedule of that stop, gives you a map of the area specific to that stop, and even current arrival information.

Finding: GOOD. I would expect that Trimet saw an increase of web traffic from mobile devices with this execution.

Bad Execution:

Let’s look at a not so great example:

Original image posted here:
Original image posted here
  • Is cell phone signal or an internet openly available? Yes. Subway has open Wi-Fi and I would consider most of them to have unobscured cell coverage.
  • Is the QR code scannable? No. For one, it is on the back of T shirt that a Subway employee is wearing. I would assume that Subway wants their employees to actively face their customers. Also, it isn’t a flat surface, which also impedes scanning.
  • Does the surrounding design makes you want to scan the code? Why or why not? No. IF you’re at Subway, and the employee is not facing you for THAT long, then there’s a more significant problem.
  • Once scanned, does it take you somewhere relevant? I honestly couldn’t get it to work and even the employee didn’t know where it took you.

Finding: BAD. I would honestly be surprised if Subway saw considerable increased web traffic with that execution.

So, Does it Work?

While I outlined for you a good and a bad placement of a QR Code, I don’t, have access to their analytics (the number of people who have scanned the code), so I can’t speak as to how effective it has been for Trimet specifically (I asked them via Twitter and I’m waiting on a reply… if I get one, I will update this!), but using QR codes has proven beneficial for some companies. A Taco Bell received over 400,000 visits via the QR codes they placed on their take out boxes, and Simard, a Canadian cabinet company, had their web traffic double in two months, and they credit their 18% increase in profits to their execution of QR codes in trade magazines.

From the description of how Taco Bell and Simard used the QR Codes, they met the criteria of a correct placement of the tool. It would make sense that a good execution would lead to increased web traffic (which, ideally, means increased business), because keeping customer engaged is always a good thing. IT would also stand to reason, that poor execution of a QR code would not benefit a company.

Finally, are they relevant?

I think they are but, as everything I’ve just gone over illustrates, they have to be used correctly! Meaning if you plan to use them, they have to pass the criteria I listed above, so plan accordingly and:
• Use a URL shortener when possible (the codes come out cleaner)
• Make sure the code is scannable
• Place the code where there is access to Wi-Fi or a cellular signal
• Ensure that the link it takes you to isn’t broken and is relevant
I don’t think it’s necessarily a difficult thing to pull off, and maybe, by beginning to use the technology effectively, we can change its reputation.

Visual_QR_DO_NOT_RESIZE_BELOW_25mm (2)


^ “QR Code Essentials”. Denso ADC. Retrieved 12 March 2013. (