The Use and Misuse of QR Codes

I first noticed it as I wandered a mall - QR codes on every sign and storefront. All it took was a few bad scans for me to give up on them entirely. QR codes suck. It's an unfortunate fact, caused by over a year of abuse.

QR code.

It's not too late to fix this situation, however. First, let's diagnose the problem.

  1. “What is a QR code?” As it turns out, many people still haven't heard of these mystical codes. This doesn't surprise me. Look at 95%+ of the QR codes out there today. How many of them come with instructions on how to use them?
  2. They're applied incorrectly. There's are entire websites dedicated to strange QR code sightings. The lesson to take from this website is to test your codes before giving them away in bottles, on muffins, etc, and think about where the person has to be located to scan them. And please, don't put a QR code on a billboard. People are distracted enough while driving without having to try to line their phone up with a sign a quarter mile away.
  3. They're ugly. Honestly, not much can be done about this. It's going to end up looking like a code. A possible solution might be to expand it into looking like something more relevant, however, like I did for this code.
  4. Most codes lead to garbage. In the mall mentioned earlier, I scanned multiple codes that lead to store websites. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, none of these websites were optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. Huge turn off. People are scanning your codes with their phones, so the page they are taken to better be designed for a phone.
  5. It's not worth their time. I've been told time and time again how easy it is to scan a code. Guess what? It's not. The person has to pull out their phone, find the QR code scanner app (unless they don't have it already, in which case, add at least three more steps), hold their phone in place for a few seconds, and wait for the page to load. As a customer, this is a huge inconvenience. What you're offering better be worth it! By now I'm sure you're as unsurprised as I am to find that it's usually not.

This is a terrible situation for you if you want to use a QR code. Even if you educate your customers, even if you apply the code in an ingenious way, even if it's beautiful, and even if it leads to the most beautiful site with the greatest offer EVER... people may not scan it. Why? Because they've been taught that QR codes suck.

How do we change their perception? Don't forget the pitfalls above. Do it right every time. Make it worth the scan. People will begin to trust your codes. More people will use them. Other marketers will see your success and realize what they need to do. People will begin to trust their codes. And so on.