(This article first appeared in the Small Business Owner Magazine)
“So what do you know about them QR code things?” This is a question I have been asked on a number of occasions. The question is usually followed by “they’re only a gimmick, aren’t they?” Personally, I don’t think these clever barcodes are a gimmick. In fact, they can be a huge benefit to your business. Read on to find out how.
The ‘Quick Response’ (QR) code started in Japan in 1994 having been developed by Denso Wave. Unlike the more traditional barcodes you see on retail products (which are licenced by GS1) the QR code is an open source code in the sense that the developers have not exercised their patent rights over the code spec. So what are QR codes? (here’s the science bit).
The QR code is a form of 2-Dimensional bar code (not to be confused with the GS1 Datamatrix 2-D code). The easiest way to tell these codes apart lies in the fact that the QR code (on the right below) contains three black squares in boxes on three corners of the code, while the GS1 Datamatrix (on the left) has a solid black right-angled line on the left side and base.
A QR code has the capacity to hold large amounts of data in a very small space. In general 2-D codes are more risilient to damage than traditional barcodes on retail products and come with inbuilt error correction.
The science is fine, but why should you consider one for your business?
Because QR codes are effectively an open source product, they are very cheap to optain, very flexible in their uses and can be scanned by your customers using an App on a standard smartphone. Remember, it is not whether you like them or not, the important point is whether your customers would benefit from using them.
According to a 2012 article by businessinsider.com almost 700 million smartphones were bought in 2012 and that number is expected to exceed 1.5 Billion by 2016 (three years time). The simple fact is that more and more people (including your customers) are buying and using smartphones. People like having immediate access to information through their smart phones and, I believe, by not providing them with access to information about you through QR codes, you will be increasing the risk of lost business. Remember, customers do not want to waste time trying to key in URL addresses on their phone. People love the convenience of a ‘point and shoot’ technology that allows them access to the information they want. QR codes will do this.
In order to scan a QR code, your customer will need to download an APP to their smartphone. Both the IOS and Android systems provide hundreds of QR Scanner Apps, the majority of which are free.
So what uses can QR codes have?
- Probably the most basic use for QR codes is where they have been used to drive traffic from adverts, products, flyers, brochures and business cards to the company website or other relevant information.
- DIY stores, use QR codes in their promotional materials to take users to instructional videos to help select equipment and materials
- Restaurants use QR codes to give clients access to menus
- Funeral directors add QR codes to Headstones at cemetaries to give visitors access to memorial web pages for the deceased
- Retailers use QR codes to provide offers and discounts for customers
- QR codes can be used in museums, galleries and tourist attractions to provide visitors access to information, saving money in developing audio or pre-printed guide materials
- Foods producers and retailers use QR codes to provide customers with recipes to use their produce.
- One retailer in Japan has a virtual supermarket set up on the platform of a station where customers can shop by scanning the QR codes on the virtual shelves and get their groceries delivered to their home.
In fact the possible uses for QR codes are only limited by the imagination of the businesses that use them.
Do I use QR codes?
Yes, I have two on my business cards to provide access to my websites.
Would I recommend them for business owners?
Yes. QR codes are a fun way to interact with your customers. If Smartphone sales are increasing, then more and more of your customers will have the equipment.
Can you afford ignore it?
No. QR codes are very cost effective. Sometimes free and there are no licence fees to be paid. Once you generate your code, it’s yours. Just point it at the URL you want and you are done. One point of caution though; if you are looking for QR codes, make sure you get High Resolution codes. They tend to offer better reproduction and scanning rates.