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Survey finds that most consumers don’t understand QR codes

Revitalizing an old argument

We have long predicted that QR codes are just a passing trend and although companies will take a shine to them, consumers will ultimately opt to type in a memorable URL or use augmented reality apps as they become mainstream.

Up to this point it has mostly been through discussion with consumers that we have made this assertion, but recently, Sean X Cummings at stood on a San Francisco street holding up a sign with a QR code on it as well as the phrase “free gift if you can tell me what this is.” Although his poll was not scientific and answers should have been skewed toward people understanding what a QR code is given the genetics of the city, out of 300 people, it was mostly a mystery despite marketing experts proclaiming QR codes must be a part of all marketing campaigns.

Surveying the streets of San Fran – shocking results

“I was not asking them to decipher it, just tell me what it actually was,” Cumming said. Below are his full survey results:

  • 11 percent correctly answered QR code or quick response code
  • 29 percent responded with “Some barcode thingy”
  • Seven percent guessed some variant of “Those things you stare at that get 3D when you cross your eyes. What picture is it? I can’t seem to get it”
  • The remaining 53 percent tried everything from a secret military code, Korean (uh really?), to an aerial street map of San Francisco.

Additionally, Cummings asked everyone who understood it to be some form of a barcode how they could decipher it and only 35 percent said “with their phone,” leaving the majority clueless even when they knew what it was. And of those who knew they could use their phone to read the code, only 45 percent of those (so roughly 15 percent of all people surveyed) could actually read the code with their phone, taking them an average of 47 seconds to take out their phone, find the app and read the code. “Not exactly a ‘quick response,’” Cummings said.

“Too geeky for the masses.”

Larry Lohrman, photography expert said, “I like the idea of QR codes, but even though I see more of them all the time, I have to admit that it’s now two years since my prediction that they were going to be an awesome feature for real estate. I have a app on my phone that will scan them but there aren’t enough of them around in the right places that I use them every week or month. I’d rather scan a QR code than type in a URL and day but they are just not being used enough so I even see them every day. I only ever see them in Wired magazine and The New Yorker. There usage also depends on the masses using smart phones with scanning apps and as I think about it I’m the only one in my extended family of 15 or so people that even has a smart phone and knows what a QR code is.
Maybe Sean is right. Maybe they are just too geeky for the masses.”

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QR codes ARE a passing trend

Beyond being too geeky, they’re a bulky option to a billboard saying “visit” as they zip by at 70 mph. We maintain that augmented reality apps will ultimately take QR codes’ place, but for now, marketers will continue to struggle as QR codes are not only misunderstood by the public but banned by MLS systems and remain illegal to scan from cars as most states have texting laws in place which includes most smartphone apps.

It has become hard to say this because there are a lot of amazing people doing creative, ground-breaking things around the technology, but I still believe that QR codes are a passing trend no matter how cool, neat or useful they are.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. erikgoldhar

    November 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Lani,

    I think your post is a bit misleading in terms of MLSs banning QR Codes. I believe that they are only banned by a few (if not one) MLS and only banned in terms of using them as a photo on the listing within the MLS itself.

    This means that Agents and Brokerage can use QR Codes on Business Cards, For Sale Signs, Bus Shelter Ads, Print (i.e newspapers and flyers) and anywhere else they choose.

    Because a QR Code needs to be scanned with your phone it doesn't make sense to include it as one of your listing photos because you are already on the page of the listing.

    In terms of the technology being replaced by augmented reality I am not quite sure. Maybe Mobile Image Recognition.

    In the past 2 weeks these brands have launched QR Code campaigns:
    1. Starbucks
    2. Walmart
    3. Toys R Us
    4. Paypal
    5. Kmart
    6. Nissan
    7. Toyota
    8. Alamo Car Rental
    9. Enterprise Car Rental
    10. National Car Rental
    11. Sears
    12. Perrier
    13. JC Penney
    14. Papa Johns
    15. Bang & Olufsen

    Would all of these brands be using the technology if it was going away?

    Again, not so sure.

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