In western society QR codes have been mostly regarded as an ugly marketing gimmick, but they’re now proving valuable as a logistical solution to the virus problem.
China uses QR codes everywhere and all the time. Together with the all-encompassing mega-app WeChat, China is more or less a cashless society relying on smartphones to pay for everything from vegetables at the market to an electricity bill for the home.
it’s not just common where I am, it’s pretty much the only way we make payments all over China . Cash and credit card are only rarely used. Even subway beggars and buskers use QR codes. pic.twitter.com/EZ1qKqOGlu
— Rojas Advertising (@futuregravy) August 23, 2020
Interestingly, China was the first nation to ever use paper currency (in the 7th century) and yet they seem to be the first to be phasing it out in favour of an entirely virtual system.
Of course, the ominous Chinese Communist Party likes to keep tabs on its citizens, so what we might call “progress” is subjective because we’re also talking about traceable digital footprints.
Politics and freedom aside, the opportunities QR codes represent cannot be underestimated.
Plus, with the issue of covid, health and safety, we’re likely to see more businesses embrace the technology.
Staying Open for Business & Managing Covid-19
A couple of weeks ago I went to a few bars with friends. We saw QR codes dotted around venues and fixed to tables, often covered in see-through plastic so they wouldn’t get wet or damaged.
We were required to sign in to one pub upon entry using a code for virus track and trace purposes.
This meant not having to handle pens and paper forms.
Shout out to QR codes. Completely useless for most of their existence, and now the heroes of the pandemic.
— Osman Faruqi (@oz_f) August 15, 2020
At the table, drinks were ordered by first scanning the code to gain access to an online menu with payment options. The drinks were brought over to avoid unnecessary queuing.
Interestingly, a tweet from December 2019 shows a restaurant ordering system similar to the one we experienced…
Wow – this is the future of restaurant checkout. QR code provisioned to table and bill (order was entered in by waiter via iPad and connected to table number), Apple Pay and email receipt… Leave without having to wait. Very seamless and impressive. Nice work @24DinerATX… pic.twitter.com/19dpXlsRFQ
— Andy Tryba (@andytryba) December 17, 2019
Street Food Cinema in Cardiff launched Friday 7th August, using QR code stickers fixed to the wing mirrors of vehicles. Patrons scan the codes to order food and drinks which are brought to the car.
Obviously, you’ll need internet access on your phone to complete such tasks but if you don’t have a data plan on your phone, that might not be too much of an issue.
If an establishment has its own Wi-Fi network, they can display a QR code that, when scanned, instantly gives access to their network and gets you online.
Independent high-street businesses with their own online eCommerce shops should pay close attention and take inspiration.
For example, there are shops where I live scrambling to set up and accept online payments so they can fulfil deliveries. They could and should be taking advantage of the QR technology to help facilitate this.
Perhaps they have offers, deals and bundles which will benefit from a printed code that can be scanned there and then to get people to an order web page.
Or maybe they have an email newsletter with news on a stock line.
Customers and prospect don’t always have to complete a task right away either. They might scan and bookmark the web page to save for another time.
Give Customers Fast Access to Your Online Shop
Years ago, as a bit of an experiment, I created an online directory website featuring local fast food leaflets. Digital copies were created and made available to the public.
The pages of the site are discoverable in Google search – assuming you searched the right keywords with intent – but I wanted to make these pages immediately obvious to customers walking past or inside one of the shops.
The appropriate QR codes were produced and various local food businesses happily displayed them within the premises.
Scanning the code would open the correct web page on the website where the menu could be viewed/downloaded.
How to Produce the Codes
Each of the codes were generated using one of the many free online services dedicated to this exact thing.
For example, the top Google result for “free online QR generator” is www.the-qrcode-generator.com but others are available.
I ran my original page URL through the Google URL builder to create a tracking link and then generated the code off of that. This provided meaningful data insights within Google Analytics.
Each code, once generated, was loaded up in Photoshop and turned into a printable design.
The biggest cost was using ink, paper, self-adhesive plastic and my equipment to actually manufacture these things. The self-adhesive was out of a skip from a factory I worked at years ago!
According to my Google Analytics reports, people were scanning these quite often – about 100 scans per week – and because I live in a small town, it’s not too bad for a test on a shoestring budget.
If you start creating QR codes for your businesses and sticking them up in places where your customers can see them, you’re implying your website is reliable and safe enough to be accessed in this manner.
Therefore, you must ensure the site is mobile friendly and fast-loading. If it isn’t, work on that.
If you’re clever, you could use HTML bookmarks (indicated as www.example.com/page#section1) where the # symbol denotes a certain section of a webpage.
This means that when a code is scanned, it will cause the web page to automatically scroll/jump a particular section rather than just sending a visitor to the top of the page.
Analysis: Expect to See More of Them
Smartphone users received some encouragement to get scanning when iOS11 was released in 2017 together with a native built-in scanner app.
That was a few years ago and I don’t know if there has been any kind of uptick. There is however a Google Trends graph from Jan – August 2020 showing a spike in interest.
This means people have Google searched various topics surrounding their use, which is not surprising given the timeline and the point at which the virus really became a problem.
QR codes go way beyond novelty. Right now, it’s about creating commercial experiences that are touchless, contactless, safe and convenient.
Having someone scan a code at a crucial moment in time is handy because it’s an instant portal to an online destination from which a desirable physical outcome can occur.
Even if/when the virus is solved and banished, the digital infrastructure changes of 2020 ought to remain in place.
The pandemic may have been a huge inconvenience but it’s possible society is also making huge leaps forward.