Why Did QR Code Die Despite The Smartphone Revolution


The year 2014 is dubbed as the beginning of an era of smartphone; the first time ever, smartphone sales to end user crossed 1 billion mark in a year, reaching 1.25 billion units in 2014. Users are much more data hungry now and this is clearly evident with the availability of 3 million unique apps to download. Brands are actively pursuing app developers with a focused mobile-first strategy and trying to lead the customer-acquisition race. Some apps win this race, but many fail to reach a sizable number of smartphone users despite having a promising solution to offer – QR code is one such type of application.

Most people have probably come across QR codes in their lives, but it’s likely they didn’t actually recognize what those pixelated black and white images do, despite their growing ubiquity in product packaging and advertising. The fact is, QR codes once had the potential to replace traditional barcodes, as they’re easy to read and allow access to more information, but they just never quite became as popular among the everyday user as they could and should have.

When looking at why QR codes haven’t found their place among mainstream users, in spite of being used by tech and marketing professionals for over 20 years, the conclusion is almost always the same: people don’t have a clue of how to use them or use them incorrectly. According to Visualead, only 15% of smart device users know how to scan QR codes properly, which is an enormous drawback, considering a much bigger chunk of the world’s population uses these devices and could already be taking advantage of the information provided by the codes.

There is, however, another reason behind smartphone users’ resistance to QR codes, which could be an easier remedy than misinformation. As Alex Kutsishin points out in his Forbes guest post, there is no standard QR scanner app included on any device’s OS. This conspicuous absence leaves consumers without a reference for what to use when they actually need to scan a code. In fact, if one such app was already included with the device’s operating system, users would probably think of investigating the concept without prompting, but since there isn’t, many will never find the benefits of these marketing campaigns.

That leads us to the other major reason why marketing campaigns using QR codes, and it’s related to the inability of marketers and business owners to actually understand how to make these campaigns practical and attractive for consumers. One common error, according to Kutsishin, is that QR codes point to websites which aren’t optimized for the devices which scan them, a visual headache for any user. The other flub is that brands do not usually give any special benefits to users as an incentive to scan the codes.

This is quite unfortunate, since brands like Turkish Airlines, who made a Scavenger Hunt during the 2012 Olympics, utilizing QR codes to point users to their mobile website and win prizes – thus ticking all the above mentioned boxes – have proved that the codes can certainly be used in successful marketing campaigns. However, the fact still stands that this campaign is from 2012, and for the most part, one has to go back as far as 2013 to find post citing examples of successful campaigns such as the one by ecosistency.com.

Ultimately, this all adds up to a general sense that QR codes haven’t quite achieved success on a larger scale, leading some tech bloggers and specialized media to pronounce them dead back in 2013. Whether QR codes can still be resurrected, however, is another matter entirely.

To Top