QR Codes Finally Get the Attention They Deserve

Credit: Getty Images by AsiaVision

It only took a global pandemic, but those funny-looking 2D barcodes that have been around for more than two decades are finally having their moment. Thanks to this touch-free, germ-avoiding, digital-first period of time in which we have found ourselves, QR codes are becoming a more popular way to seamlessly engage consumers — and they are becoming the bridge between the physical space and our digital ecosystem.

Quick Background

QR (short for Quick Response) codes were first conceived in Japan by a subsidiary of Toyota back in 1994 as a way to expedite the manufacturing process by tracking vehicles and parts. Over the years, QR codes have been used as a way to store information such as websites, links to apps, tickets to events, and more.

One of the biggest advancements in the adoption of QR codes came about in 2017, when Apple updated the iPhone’s functionality to be able to read a QR code directly from the camera. Prior to this, QR codes struggled to catch on or gain mass appeal because smartphone users had to download a separate third-party app to scan them, and those few extra clicks and precious seconds of time were not worth the effort. Now, scanning a QR code and getting to the landing page can be done in as little as two clicks.

Marketers have been experimenting with QR codes for almost as long as they have existed, and yet, there is still a lot of uncertainty around how best to use them. However, in the most recent three months, we have seen some of the most innovative uses for QR codes and a growing demand for the touch-free experience they can offer.

Growing Use of QR Codes in 2020

Use of QR codes in direct mail has always been relatively low compared to other response mechanisms such as websites, 800-numbers, or BREs. In 2018 and 2019, approximately 4% to 5% of all mail observed included a QR code. So far, in 2020 YTD (January – May), Comperemedia has observed QR codes in more than 7% of all mail pieces captured in our database.

That’s a 60% increase in the share of mail with a QR code from the average over the last two years. That’s still fewer than 1 in 10 mail pieces with a QR code; however, the growth in usage is indicative of a larger trend toward an increased acceptance of QR codes as a means of engaging and inviting further action from the recipient.

Direct Mail Examples

From a customer service perspective, QR codes provide one of the quickest and most frictionless ways to access account information. Comenity Bank, for example, the issuer of the Wayfair online store credit card, utilizes a QR code on paper statements sent to customers as a quick payment option, bypassing the need to log into one’s account or remember any passwords. When the QR code is scanned, the payment screen is automatically loaded with the correct account holder’s information and the option to make a one-click payment using pre-stored payment details.

Wayfair QR Code

Credit: Comperemedia

Synchrony Bank is another institution using QR codes in an innovative approach to acquisition marketing. In a recent direct mail campaign observed on Comperemedia’s database, the Synchrony Bank CD was promoted as a way to reach one’s savings goals by locking in a guaranteed rate of return. Instead of providing the interest rate on the campaign itself, which could easily be outdated or no longer available by the time the mail piece reaches the prospect’s mail box, Synchrony added a QR code and the prompt to “scan for current rate.” This way, the recipient is able to get the most up-to-date, real-time rate and avoid the frustration of learning the offer they received was no longer available.

Synchrony QR Code

Credit: Comperemedia

Touch-Free Customer Experience

Even outside of direct marketing, QR codes are changing the customer experience. As small businesses look for ways to re-open in a post-COVID environment, innovation and adaptation are going to be essential.

Some restaurants are experimenting with QR codes on printed table-top signs, reducing the need for menus that could spread germs. This could even go a step further if the QR code is connected to an online ordering platform for patrons to place their orders right from their phones. In grocery stores or brick-and-mortar retail stores, QR codes on product labels can open the doors to endless possibilities for sharing product information to consumers and creating that extra nudge in the decision-making path to purchase.

QR code acceptance is about to get another big boost from a major player in the payments space – PayPal. In May, PayPal announced the launch of a new QR code capability for its mobile app. This new feature allows merchants and business owners the ability to generate, print, or display a unique QR code as a means of accepting payment for a purchase at the store or any in-person transaction. Not only will this provide customers with another touch-free option to pay for purchases, but small business owners who were previously handling cash transactions can pivot to more contactless options.

Using QR Codes Successfully

The key to using QR codes successfully comes down to the value it promises to bring and the ability to conveniently deliver on that promise. Marketers need to be as specific as possible about what the QR code will provide, why it’s worth scanning it, and how fast it will be to do so. Aim for the fewest number of clicks necessary to get the information that was promised. And, if possible, try to get a little creative with your QR codes. They don’t have to be in black-and-white, and some code-generating services will allow you to customize the image, including a special character or logo embedded inside of it.

When used successfully, QR codes can enhance a brand’s message, create a unique customer experience, or encourage a new transaction. How will you incorporate QR codes into your next campaign?

Comperemedia, a Mintel company, is an industry-leading competitive marketing intelligence agency. To find out more about Comperemedia’s products and services, please get in touch.