Why QR codes are not suitable for the masses (and what you can do about it)

What can I do to increase conversion?

Most of us who work with or on the web are now familiar with QR codes. But now, hand on heart, how many QR codes have you already scanned - not to test the code for your own project, but to retrieve additional information, for example? Not that often, right? Let's see if it can be different for the average user.

What exactly QR codes are can be found on various websites, so I won't go into the details here. Put very simply, a QR code is a link! A link that, among other things, can make it possible to switch from one medium to another. This can be a change from a print campaign to a website or a customer hotline. Ultimately, it is a link that should relieve the user of tedious typing. It sounds practical, yet there is a lot of friction.

an example QR code
An example QR code

Not everyone owns a smartphone

In 2011, a big growth was predicted for QR codes - and that was still for the then current year. Sure, the number of smartphone users is constantly increasing, and so is the chance that one's own code will be scanned. And yet, there are still many users who do not own an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or other smartphone. These users resort to a device that cannot scan QR codes. These people may even surf the web, but have no way of installing additional software on their device.

Users do not recognise codes or confuse them

According to some studies, QR codes have gained in popularity, but not every user is familiar with them. Many people have probably seen the codes or a variation of them before, and that is precisely the problem. Methods similar to the QR code are also used in other areas - a good example of this is the data matrix, which is used on parcels and letters. It looks very similar to the QR code, but other contents are encoded. The user assumes that the data matrix contains a link and scans it. However, contrary to expectations, no website is called up and, in the worst case, no feedback is given at all. The user now transfers this negative experience to conventional QR codes and ignores them from then on.

The codes are used incorrectly

My job as a designer requires me to observe people in order to solve problems that these people have in their daily lives. I could also observe people trying to deal with QR codes. One problem people have with QR codes - they photograph the code with the camera integrated in the smartphone and expect an action from the smartphone. Of course, this does not happen and so the QR code (in the best case only the one that has just been photographed) is ignored.

An additional application is needed

Here is an opportunity for software developers. Develop camera software that independently recognises QR codes and offers the user an action option. Optimally, this functionality should already be implemented in the operating system. Apple, Google or Microsoft, are you reading this? Unfortunately, this functionality is unknown to me so far and so we have to resort to third-party software. This is also an important point that the user must be aware of.

Scanner and camera of different quality

If the user could actually be persuaded to install an application on his device that is capable of reading QR codes, a big step has been taken. However, there is already a wide variety of software in the app stores of this world, which also differ in how well they can recognise and read the codes. The cameras of the smartphones also play their part. Not every smartphone is equipped with a camera of the quality of the iPhone 4S.

The fear of scanning the code

Last but not least, there remains the emotional hurdle of users to scan your QR code. Far too often we hear all kinds of messages about the dangers lurking on the web - and not just since yesterday! Dialers, viruses, phishing and also reports about attacked & manipulated smartphones have played their part. Users are becoming more cautious! Often, reading software for QR codes redirects the user directly to a page on the web without first announcing what happens next. While this is convenient, it carries with it a high potential for uncertainty. The user cannot see what is behind the code and in the worst case ignores it. "Is my smartphone at risk if I scan this code?"

What can I do to increase conversion?

I already mentioned that a QR code is first and foremost a link and so the rules of web links also apply to QR codes for the most part.

Before you print a code, consider in the first step: the scanners installed on smartphones, as well as the cameras used, are of varying quality. Therefore, it has proven useful to print the code in the size of 3cm x 3cm!

Counter users' fears and describe what the customer can expect behind the code. It is also important to place a fitting Call to Action. Of course, the statement should be as promotional as possible!

The code should relieve the user of tedious typing, but not all users have a smartphone with a camera and scanner installed. Therefore, always print a related URL to enable these customers to use the offer as well. If the URLs are different, the code and URL can also be evaluated separately. In addition, the URL shown should be as short as possible, because nobody likes typing on a mobile phone! Perhaps you can equip your website with its own linkshortner?

You should also reward the user for taking the trouble to scan your code. Don't just throw him onto your company's homepage. Meet his expectations, make the effort easier for him or reward him with incentives.

Let's summarise

There are many reasons why a user may ignore your QR codes, but you may be able to attract him as a customer through a QR code if you...

  • ... print the code in an easily scannable way
  • ... integrate a promotional call-to-action
  • ... offer a URL as an alternative
  • ... keep the alternative URL short
  • ... reward the user

Bonus: Do you already have your own app?

In that case, it might be worth integrating a code-reading functionality here. You can then refer to it in your print ads and ask the customer to scan the printed QR code with your app. In this case, you may manage to get users to use your app in the future when they stumble across a code of your company.

Further information

If you want to delve a little deeper into the technology behind QR codes, may I refer you to the Career Bible, which, in addition to Wikipedia, gives a nice overview of QR codes and their function. http://karrierebibel.de/qr-code-2011-wird-das-jahr-des-barcode-marketing/

It only remains for me to wish you much success with the use of QR codes...