Lately, it is impossible not to notice a QR Code somewhere during your day. They’re those little black and white boxes you often see in the corner of a newspaper ad, poster, business window or checkout counters. Their usage has exploded in recent years to the point that, at least to us, they seem rather silly in many applications. QR codes have spawned a conversation between ardent supporters and naysayers over whether the level of interaction from this new technology is really here to stay. The question has been, and continues to be, “Are people actually interacting with them?”
We’ve been mulling over this question here at Zee Creative and decided to do some research. After fielding numerous questions regarding QR codes and their usage from local Billings clients, as well as some claims by others on their value in the market place, we decided to conduct our own study on QR codes in the Billings, Montana market from November 25th, 2011 to January 31st, 2012.
We must first stress that while we took great care in how we planned and collected the data, this is not a scientific study. We looked at a number of other studies done on QR Codes that were more scientific in nature and felt that they were very leading in their approaches, thus guaranteeing a certain outcome. For instance, one study used a large sign that was carried by an individual on the streets that said “Scan Me”. This type of approach invites attention and doesn’t accurately illustrate how a QR Code on its own, not overtly placed, fares in the wild. We wanted to see if people really notice QR Codes and interact with them.
The goal of our study was to see if people interacted with QR Codes for whatever reason, without external provocation, in a variety of settings and applications with only the typical context any ad or sign might have.
The participants of our study were comprised of 14 local Billings area businesses including a large regional event venue, newsprint ads, in-store displays, vehicle decals, a mall kiosk display, real estate signage and business entries and lobbies. In most cases the businesses participating in the study had not used QR code marketing in the past, or had done so very minimally. Some of the QR Codes were displayed by themselves, others with general verbiage and others with a direct call to action.
Please note that it is difficult to obtain an exact exposure number in some settings, so we have used a very conservative, low number in all instances.
|Est. Scan Rate
|High Volume Lobby/Waiting Area
|Low Volume Lobby/Waiting Area
|High Volume Sales Floor
|Low Volume Sales Floor
|Real Estate Yard Sign
|Shopping Mall Booth
|Restrooms (large venue)
- QR code was displayed in a high volume lobby or waiting area
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 15,000 customers and visitors. The code(s) were scanned 40 times.
- QR code was displayed in a low volume lobby or waiting area
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 800 customers and visitors. In this setting the code(s) were scanned 3 times.
- QR code was displayed at the sales counter of a service or retail business
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 14,300 customers. The code(s) were scanned 10 times.
- QR code was displayed on the front window of a service business
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 600 people consisting of sidewalk and/or customer foot traffic. In this setting the code(s) were scanned 0 times.
- QR code was displayed in a high volume sales floor
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 15,000 shoppers and visitors. The code(s) were scanned 9 times.
- QR code was displayed in a low volume sales floor
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 950 shoppers and visitors. The code(s) were scanned 14 times.
- QR code was displayed in a large ad in a major and widely distributed area print publication
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 650,000 readers. The code(s) were scanned 37 times.
- QR code was displayed on a real estate “for sale” yard sign in a residential neighborhood on a very visible and travel intersection
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 600 potential home buyers. The code(s) were scanned 5 times.
- QR code was displayed at a retail booth/kiosk at a shopping mall with a highly visible and accessible configuration
The total exposure was estimated well over 10,000 of mall visitors and shoppers (this includes the Christmas shopping season). In this setting the code(s) were scanned 2 times.
- QR code was displayed at a local museum exhibit
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 100 museum visitors. In this setting the code(s) were scanned 0 times.
- QR code was displayed on the rear of a company vehicle (with logo) which spent time parked and commuting around city to various clients and locations
The total exposure was estimated to be at least 1,000 drivers and foot traffic within range to scan. The code was scanned 0 times.
- QR code was displayed in multiple restrooms at a large venue
The total exposure was estimated to at least 5,000. The code(s) were scanned 4 times
While the interaction overall was low across the board, we did find some trends and comprised together a summary of the more effective methods of using QR codes to substantiate the investment in them.
- QR codes with a brief explanation of what the code is linked to, or a call to action, seem to be more effective than a code by itself.
- Use of a QR code in conjunction with print advertising seems to yield better results than signage applications.
- QR codes that are more accessible and visible will yield better results.
- QR codes that are located in a setting that the user is more stationary and “has time” seem to yield better results.
To be direct, our hopes weren’t high for a large response. We were, however, surprised with the results. Not only was our skeptical opinion warranted, but the significance of such low interaction from such a large range of locations in Billings, MT, business demographics, and the time frame suggest the obvious: While QR codes are out there, they rarely are being interacted with even out of curiosity.
Using a QR code requires additional steps by a user to see the content or web destination, which seems to impede its value and general interest. Additionally, the results would indicate that perhaps the use of a web URL or phone number in place of the QR code would yield at a minimum similar results, and not require additional steps to access the information.
Answering the question of whether QR codes are around to stay, we can’t say that it is a definite ‘no’. However, our study results combined with our first-hand experience, lean towards a fading trend for these little guys for use in advertising. People in general are curious individuals, but unfortunately pulling out a phone, loading an app and then scanning the code is possibly far more effort than most people care to deal with to satisfy a curiosity of discovering what the code offers, or links to. Perhaps over time this idea can be modified for a more time saving interaction. Until then, the QR code as a marketing tool may not be money well spent.