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While a lot of things have changed over the past two years as COVID 19's grip tightened on humanity, one thing is for sure is that the adoption of technology to usher in an era of contactless experiences accelerated at breakneck speed. But the most unlikely hero of the pandemic was no doubt… the QR code! Who could have predicted that 2020 would be the year the QR code came back?

History of the QR code

Invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara from the Japanese company Denso Wave, the QR code was created to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. The initial design was influenced by the black and white pieces on a Go board

Clearly, it is a technology that was ahead of its time! At least for general consumption anyways. Introduced to the public in 2010, initial consumer usage was low for two reasons. One, smartphone adoption was much lower than it is today and two, scanning QR codes required special third-party smartphone apps. This made adoption low and pigeonholed QR code usage for specialized marketing campaigns geared towards die-hard consumers. As a result, adoption by the general public remained low and even declined over the years. It wasn't until just a few years ago that Apple (2017) and Google (2018) introduced QR code scanning functionality into their device's native capabilities. This inclusion brought the QR code back for forward-thinking marketers resulting in an increase in utilization. 

Enter the pandemic… where the QR code became the go-to delivery mechanism for restaurant menus. By the end of 2020, almost 11 million US households scanned QR codes, an increase of about 2 million scans from 2018. And as of this time last year around 60-65% of the world population have used QR Codes on a daily basis. Not convinced? Here's some more stats from Scantrust.

QR codes at retail

Today QR codes in the retail shopping experience are either under or inappropriately utilized by many retailers and brands. What many fail to recognize is that QR codes should be utilized for high-value engagements only. What are high-value engagements? These are digital engagements that are going to move your customer deeper into your digital ecosystem by either extracting additional customer data or driving purchases. A few examples of these types of engagements are:

App downloads

A QR code can make it much easier for your customer to download your app. Scanning a QR code can take your customer to the direct link in the app store to start the download. Otherwise, you are directing a customer to the app store where they must search for your app and then download it. The QR code allows for a simple shortcut to increase attribution transparency. 

Data capture

As referenced in Retail Marketing in the Privacy Era, first-party data capture has become increasingly important and should be a part of the retail experience. An example of this type of engagement could be scanning to provide feedback on a shopping experience or capture reviews for products. Considering most read reviews before making "new" purchases (especially online), consumers today are more likely to write reviews than ever before. 72% of US consumers have written a review for a local business (up from just 66% in 2019.) QR codes provide convenience to easily capture this information.

Offering discounts

QR codes can be the link between discounts and purchases. By having customers scan QR codes to redeem rewards or special offers, Retailers can better track engagement and call attention to these opportunities throughout the shopping experience. A QR code could be used during the shopping experience to capture a special promotion for a particular produce or bundle of products which can help enrich a customer's data profile. An extension of this is to utilize QR codes to offer and track rewards redemptions at checkout. 


QR codes can now even facilitate payment. The big claim to fame for our friend the QR code is Amazon Go. The seamless and convenient "shop and walk out" experience is powered by QR codes. A great example of how a QR code can make purchasing easier is product reordering. Using QR codes to link to a subscription or membership account could allow your customers to just scan the packaging to reorder frequently used products.

Managing QR codes

The great thing about QR codes is that managing them can be quite simple if you use the right technology from the start. QR codes ride the line between physical and digital. Especially in the in-store retail environment. You might be asking how do I manage both the physical and digital aspect of these things? Well, it's quite easy really. There are a few services designed to manage QR codes. These services often utilize technology that can be integrated via API into a retailer's system to allow QR codes to be dynamically generated as needed. The link management aspect of the platform then allows the QR code links to be managed and tracked dynamically through a dashboard. While a quick google search will reveal that there are many providers of this service. One of our go-to partners for this is a platform called Branch. Branch is a fantastic deep linking and attribution platform, but in mid-2021 they added a QR code feature that extends their capabilities to include QR code creation and management making it a go-to tool for retailers.