What Is a QR Code and How Does It Work?

Internet fads constantly come and go, but one that has stubbornly stuck around, despite repeated incorrect predictions of its imminent demise, is the QR (Quick Response) code.

So what is a QR code and why is it important?

If you’ve never heard the term before, you may be scratching your head right now.  While the more Internet savvy may already know, for those who don’t, here’s what a common QR code looks like:

qr code sample

Perhaps a bit odd looking at first, this code is something which small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be aware of since it is increasingly becoming an important tool. The QR code is basically a natural extension of the conventional barcode, which has been around since the mid 1970s on everything from supermarket groceries to large container shipments. It was designed in 1994 for Japanese auto-makers to track car parts. Now it is being used by big companies and small businesses.

Advantages of the QR Code for Your Business

The QR code has many advantages over a conventional barcode, however. The main advantage is that you can store up to a hundred times more information on a QR code than on a conventional horizontal barcode. In addition, QR codes can be scanned from any direction for 360 degrees. This makes them easier for your device to read and lessens the possibility of background interference.

The third main advantage is that from a marketing point of view, the code’s appearance is unique and interesting, increasing the likelihood of engaging the customer in any campaign where it might be deployed.

A QR code reader can be downloaded onto a smartphone by anyone, and they are mostly free of charge. This means that any customer can walk into your business with his or her smartphone, and scan a QR code which you have generated. An Android user can use something like QR Code Reader, and an iPhone user can download the Quick Scan app. Both are free of charge.

There are many websites allowing you to generate QR codes and again, most are free of charge. You can then download them to your computer for printing. A Google search for “QR code generator” brings up countless results, each offering different options. So it is simply a case of selecting the options that works best for you.

Possible QR Code Applications

Now, let’s look at some business-related scenarios where you would use QR codes.

  • Use a QR Code to direct a customer to the URL for your website, Facebook, Twitter or other social media page.
  • Use it to share a text message (anything from “Happy Holidays!” to “Have you seen what we have upstairs?)
  • Use it as a discount code to be taken to the checkout counter for 10 percent off, for example.
  • Use it on your business card with your contact details embedded inside the code.
  • Use it to link to a Google Maps location for your new store location perhaps.
  • Use it to link to a YouTube video or channel perhaps demonstrating new products or funny company videos.
  • Use it to link to an app store download (perhaps of your company’s latest eCommerce app?)
  • Use it to embed pricing for your products as an alternative for more conventional price tags.
  • Put it on your website’s “contact us” page allowing people scan it and get your contact information direct on their phones.
  • Put the code on the tables and walls of your restaurant as an easy way for customers to send off a Foursquare or Facebook status update.
  • Put a code on your restaurant’s takeout menu allowing customers to scan it with their phones and instantly call to place an order.
  • Put a QR code at the end of promotional videos taking viewers to a landing page on your website.

Hopefully, you can see by now the advantages of using QR codes in your business. The codes can help you store a tremendous amount of information and provide a creative new way of engaging customers. Encourage them to get their phones out and start scanning. Offer an incentive of a discount available only to customers through the code.

Not Everyone is Convinced of QR Code Value

Of course, there are still some marketing experts who believe that QR codes have missed the boat entirely. Marketing strategist Anise Smith thinks that the time for QR codes was five years ago, and the lack of popularity in smartphones back then, compared to today, severely hampered the possibility of QR codes seriously taking hold.

“We are currently at a point that the technology needed for QR codes to succeed is in place” said Smith, in an interview with Small Business Trends. “Unfortunately these elements were not in place as QR Codes started to gain in popularity. Had they been in place, QR Codes would have been a game changer. The time for QR codes is now in the past because there’s now technology like Augmented Reality which presents much better technological capabilities than QR codes.”

Still, if you look around you, you’ll see QR codes just about everywhere. Though as GigaOM points out, not all application of QR codes uses the technology to its best advantage.

For example, the site mentions QR codes that have been seen on the backs of buses where they are impossible to scan, or QR codes linking to websites not optimized for mobile devices.

Perhaps lack of more thoughtful QR code marketing strategies up until now has hampered the technology’s more widespread adoption in the business community. But that may not mean that QR codes are obsolete as a tool for small business. Consider the above applications for QR codes in your business. Creative use of the technology may still give you unexpected advantages when engaging your customers and boosting sales.

QR Codes Photo via Shutterstock, 
QR Code Sample Photo via Shutterstock,

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