In the spring of 2012, Forbes posed the question to its readers: Are QR codes dead? It was one of many think pieces on the topic, after the tech trend failed to catch on in the States like it had abroad. A few months earlier, Business Insider posed not a question but an entreaty: Death to the QR Code.
At the time, these were sensible feelings to have. Our cups runneth over when it comes to the technologies we learn and adopt in our daily lives — if one doesn’t meet the hype, at least in the moment, we make room for the next one. To think, there’s a parallel universe where everybody is wearing Google Glass. So close but yet so far.
QR codes, though, are being given a rare second chance that has naysayers and skeptics changing their tunes. These “funny 2d barcodes” had their first big moment in the U.S. around 2009, after a slow build from 1994 and eventually blowing up in Asia. News outlets heralded them as the next big tool in advertising — eye-catching, interactive calls-to-action to be plopped on store-windows, product labels, and anywhere else they would fit.
For one reason or another, the public did not buy in as brands experimented with their own variations. Perhaps smartphones were just a couple years behind in making scanning as easy as it needed to be, or the rewards for scanning were not yet rewarding enough. Whatever the case, analysts had given up less than two years later, calling for the public execution of these jumbled black-and-white collections of pixels.
Well these death wishes did not age well, much like an aspiring comedian’s old tweets. In 2019, QR codes are having their revenge, with no ceiling in sight for their continuing rise. For those companies who stayed the course, or gave QR codes another shake, new use cases are being realized at a breakneck pace.
Nothing is guaranteed to last in tech, but this surprising underdog story has made QR codes exciting to root for again — and invest in — whatever lies ahead.
The following are some recent examples of QR codes being used in brand strategy:
As stateside companies are realizing the utility of these modern barcodes — from customer engagement to counterfeit protection — it has created an undeniable momentum heading into the next calendar year. Some have taken to the term “QR Codes 2.0,” meant to wash away the bitter taste of a failed movement and invite brands to give it another shot.
Even those who called for the death of QR codes are coming around, and doing their part to increase QR code adoption among consumers. As the saying goes, the death of these codes was greatly exaggerated. For at least the time being, QR technology is fulfilling the potential that many saw years ago.
Perhaps the largest arc of the QR code story is still in the Asian market, where they are being accepted as a legitimate method of payment. Throughout 2016 in China, an estimated $1.65 trillion in transactions were carried out with QR codes, accounting for one-third of all mobile payments in the country. Singapore and Malaysia are two countries following China’s lead with unified QR code payment systems for making payments, and Mexico is currently piloting a similar system with help from Amazon.
This time last year, Hong Kong announced it will add QR code payment capabilities to its subway stations by mid-2020. With a successful launch, this could set a precedent for the rest of the world in how QR could be used in daily life. Hong-Based QFPay is just one of many digital payment startups working to make QR code payments a reality in every possible setting. They recently raised another $20 million to help them do so.
Back in the U.S., QR codes are being applied in a new and interesting ways with each passing day, in communities as well as corporations.
For instance, an elementary school in North Dakota recently brought student drawings to life with unique videos that could be accessed through QR codes. Over in St. Louis, a city initiative created companion QR codes for local murals that allow visitors to access details about the artworks and their creators. In Central Florida, a local police department distributed QR codes meant to improve burglary prevention among car owners, placing cards with the codes on driver windshields — once the codes are scanned, they redirect drivers to a vehicle safety assessment.
When it comes to business owners, this scrappy digital trend is suddenly a vital talking point with regard to advertising, e-commerce, consumer research, and asset tracking, with untold applications still to come. There are a growing number of variations in the “smart barcode” space, but QR has a substantial head start with both R&D and name recognition, and it may be the shorthand used to define the space for years to come.
(Read about LXConnect, LocatorX’s smart label solution that employs certified QR codes.)
The bottom line remains that scannable codes are being taken seriously by enterprise brands and entire governments, after being left for dead by industry experts years ago. QR codes are stirring more change than anyone could have predicted during their first wave, and 2020 looks to be their biggest year yet. Whether your company chooses to hop onboard or watch from the sidelines, there is no denying that the trend warrants our attention — again, that is.
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