Why the QR Code is Failing

People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces. How could we think that QR codes for marketing would work any better than CueCat? Did we not learn the first time?


18 thoughts on “Why the QR Code is Failing”

  1. When QR Codes first happened I too thought of the Cue Cat. However, I feel that there’s a crucial difference between a technology that’s reliant on a peripheral (the Cue Cat scanner) and something that’s built in to something you (in theory) already have (the cell phone camera.)

    I’m not necessarily debating the conclusion of the quote, but the reasoning behind it.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying. On there other hand, there isn’t a QR Code software built in to the most influential phone on the market. There’s adequate hardware, but no software.

      1. Oh, so now the “failure” of the QR code is Apple’s fault? 😉

  2. For marketing, a short, memorable URL will always be more effective than anything human-unreadable…. if you get somebody’s eyes on your ad, you don’t want to segment your conversions with compatibility issues. For deeplinking applications, in a cycle or two phones will be as good as acquiring text as our eyes, making QR codes a transitory data format at best. Like punchcards that were only compatible with an obscure mainframe.

    What struck me about this is how much we hear about what libraries are doing with QR codes, and how little we hear about what patrons are doing with QR codes.

  3. I appreciate this. It amazes me how many magazines have the codes embedded in their adverts – and how often I see them in businesses. I rarely scan them. myself but I have spoken about them in talks. Has there been any research into effectiveness and use?

  4. I’ve never understood the fascination with QR codes in libraries. A tool in search of use, like so many things.

    The only time I’ve ever seen an interesting usage of them is in an art gallery where the QR code was integrated into the piece itself (Space Invader, appropriately enough).

    1. I am a fan of the potential of QR codes, and wonder if libraries have looked at them strictly as replacements for something we do already. Art galleries and museums have been much more innovative and creative in using QR codes and the like to enhance the value of their tours and artifacts. Perhaps libraries can learn a few lessons from these cultural institutions. What if we viewed our books like ‘artifacts’? How could we guide first year college students through the library like museums do? I believe the potential value is there, we just have to think about how we organize our space and resources – physical and virtual – a little differently.

  5. If (and that’s a big “if”) we ever get to the point where the avg person recognizes what to do when they see a QR code, I think it could become a time saver over typing in a url.

  6. What people always seem to forget is that QR codes can contain much more than just URLs. You can include contact data, calendar events, sms, phone calls, even WiFi login information (android only at this point). I’ve even used it to share an app with someone (though technically, that’s a URL to the app market.)

    1. Yup, the best QR code implementation I’ve seen is the Nintendo 3DS; Mii QR codes contain not a pointer to an avatar, but the avatar itself; you point the camera at the code and the mii hops right out, it’s awesome. But again, that’s at best a niche use case, and that model is really only valuable when there’s no net connection. That guy in the NPR piece that reported that only 6% of smartphone users have ever used a QR code, was the final nail… the story implies that he didn’t know what QR codes were, but he made them issue a correction, implying that he knew what they were and chose not to use them. Ouch!

  7. OK, I’ll be the other side. QR codes have been around and in use for 17 years – they are almost as old as the web itself. How exactly are they failing?

    And – how is taking a picture with a barcode app harder than digging through your bag for a pen and a piece of paper (which I, at least, never really much carry around) to write down a URL that, though possibly memorable, still won’t stick in my head for longer than 10 minutes?

    Failing? Really? I’m seeing more and more of them. I just spoke with an ad exec yesterday who said they rock for certain things. For example, those magazines that Michael mentioned above – the ad person said they are great. They get a lot of scans up front, but then many people save magazines – put them in the office waiting room, at home, etc. Which equals further future scans.

    So – I don’t think qr codes are necessarily failing. I think people are failing in figuring out proper uses for them. Two different things.

  8. My colleague, Caroline Sinkinson and I gathered some statistics from our QR project at the University of Colorado. We just published our findings in the latest (51:1) edition of RUSQ: http://rusa.metapress.com/content/lw483m72gp260173/?p=1bb06dc062774ecb8aa9d5d9106f46ee&pi=11

    We found that use of QR codes was steady, if not spectacular. The University of Huddersfield (Uk) also did some studies on recognition of QR codes etc and found growing awareness. This semester we expanded our project to include librarian information in the stacks, so we’re continuing to track statistics. Overall it *seems* that we have more user awareness of our services, though whether that it is to do with QR codes or the new posters it’s hard to tell. However as our goal was to improve awareness and use of our services rather than user interaction with a new technology, we were pleased with the results so far. But we’ve tried not to go crazy with QR codes, and we’re very open to modification/changes in our implementation so I appreciate the ongoing discussion 🙂

    1. In the spirit of Open Access Week, I encourage you to take advantage of RUSQ’s policies and publish your article in an institutional repository. We have a subscription at my library and I still had to jump through several hoops to get from your link to the text.

  9. I find that QR codes in marketing contexts rarely give me more information than I had in the first place, which I find to be a failure in the commercial sphere. It’s usually a substitute for a URL. Whoopdedoo.

    In the library sphere, we would not want to present one set of information to “info haves” and another to “info have-nots.” It’s against our DNA.

    Where we are using them in our library is on topical bibliographies. Smartphone readers can scan them and go straight to the record set in the catalog, check to see if items are available, and place holds. It’s not more information than a patron without a smartphone would receive, it’s just enhanced access and more immediate usability of that information.

  10. QR codes can be useful when it is clear what the person is scanning them for. I hate it when there is just a QR code and no other information provided. I ignore about 95% of the QR codes I see, but when I am told what the link is for and it is something I am interested in, I will happily scan away. I was thrilled that the plants I planted in my garden last spring had QR codes on their stakes-there were some I had no experience with and scanning the code instantly gave me the information I needed to plan them correctly.

  11. I kind of think they’re just taking off. I used one instinctively for the first time the other day, when I found an article I wanted to read while out and about. I was about to try to search for the article on my phone so I could bookmark it, when I realized I could just scan the QR code, which was way easier than typing in the title, etc. Very handy. I also saw someone use one while out and about Sunday for the first time. So…maybe they’re just starting to see their day in the sun?

  12. I stand behind this 100%:
    “What struck me about this is how much we hear about what libraries are doing with QR codes, and how little we hear about what patrons are doing with QR codes.”

    Not once has a teen patron asked me about a QR code. I’ve tried to tell them about what they can be used for in the past and they simply said “I’ll just Google it” or “I can find it on my own”. Teens have already looked past the QR Code.

    My main beef with them is that they’re clunky and they never seem to work well. I’ve had a Blackberry, an Android, and now an iPhone4 and haven’t found a good QR code reader. I usually have to scan the code at least twice to get it to work.

    A lot of the fault also lies on the companies using QR codes. I don’t see a lot of people using them creatively. Most of them will just link you to a website or tell you something less than spectacular. We need to see more examples like this: In defense of QR codes, I will say that this http://www.mstand.com/issue/43105/10 is a great example of how to really use the technology.

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