At some point, you heard that these odd boxes are called “QR codes,” and that scanning them with your smartphone leads to information about a product, a website or some other promising giveaway. But where did they come from? Are they worth your marketing dollar? Can they make your restaurant better?
Quick Response (QR) codes were created in 1994 by the Japanese auto industry. These updated barcodes were originally used to track vehicles during the manufacture and shipping process, and to allow high-speed component scanning. The rise of smartphones over the past decade has helped QR codes expand to areas like supermarket grocery labels, trade show materials, and even tombstones.
QR codes improve on traditional barcodes in several ways. They can store up to 100 times more information as a conventional barcode, and unlike traditional barcodes, QR codes can be scanned from any direction. New Apple and Android smartphones automatically include a QR reader in their operating systems.
While they may still seem like a novel innovation, QR codes have been around for more than two decades now. Are they still a useful way to reach your target market? Were they ever?
When used properly, QR codes are a simple and cost-effective method for restaurants to generate interest and capture customer data. For example, customers can scan QR codes to receive a digital coupon, and opt-in to an email for future discounts and other offers.
QR codes for reviews can also be added to tabletops so that customers can leave feedback easily at the end of their dining experience. This eliminates the need to transcribe data from paper review forms that customers traditionally fill out. Restaurants can also offer downloadable take-out menus or even ordering options with a few of these scannable boxes.
Outside of the restaurant, marketers have also put QR codes to work, using them to link to promotional websites or as a supplement to printed promotional materials. QR codes have even popped up on some tech-savvy business cards.
Not everyone thinks that using QR codes is a good idea, however. Earlier this year, Gigaom called QR codes “the blinking VCR clock of the 21st century,” saying that just because we know what the codes are and what they can do doesn’t mean we care enough to interact with them – or even learn how to use them.
While marketers may see promise and opportunity in QR codes, the simple fact is that most people don’t use them. According to a 2013 comScore survey, as smartphone use has grown, QR code use has plateaued and even declined slightly.
As the online marketing resource HubSpot points out, the steps to reach whatever the QR code promises – stopping to take out your phone, opening the QR reader, scanning a code and waiting for the information to load – are not intuitive enough for many smartphone users.
The rise of connected devices and a more tech-savvy populace has made digital alternatives to QR codes easier to use for restaurants and marketers alike. While some users may prefer to scan a QR code to reach a restaurant’s website, providing an easy-to-remember URL is a much simpler way to get users to your website.
Many restaurants and franchises are bypassing QR codes completely by creating a dedicated application for their services. Mobile ordering, either through an app or a website, offers far more opportunities for personalization and customer engagement than a QR code.
As these apps become more common and easier to use, it seems likely that the QR code will continue to fade into oblivion – or return to the specialized industry needs that led to their creation in the first place.