The joke was that this QR code was a bit of an easter egg for anyone crazy enough to both have a QR reader app and be willing to scan in public (“Wow, you’re a scanner, man. Far out.”)
In China, QR codes are less of a joke. Much less.
Here are 10 ways they are used.
(I have consulted a few sources, chief among which are the excellent blog posts of Dan Grover).
1. Following WeChat accounts
WeChat has a QR code reader built-in. So do a whole host of apps (social and otherwise), but it’s WeChat’s considerable success that has been key to the popularisation of QR codes.
A standard WeChat QR code use is allowing users to follow a brand account upon scanning.
These codes aren’t just used offline, in a store or on out-of-home advertising. Brands will routinely add these QR codes to their websites, other social channels etc.
Following the WeChat account allows a brand to send a limited number of messages per day, usually product info and offers / promos.
Here’s an example of a QR code from KLM, allowing users to follow on WeChat.
2. WeChat CRM
Further to following brand accounts in WeChat, QR codes can be used for a whole host of customer contact (effectively replacing sign-up forms).
QR can be a major tool for CRM, allowing customers to scan to enter competitions etc. by using the WeChat QR reader.
Third party CRM systems for WeChat are popular, as WeChat provides only basic and fairly clunky functionality for storing and accessing messages.
WeChat CRM systems, as listed by WalkTheChat.com.
3. Sharing contact information
All WeChat users get their own customisable QR code within their profile.
This can be displayed for someone else to scan, or shared over the web (QRs can be scanned by clicking on them on screen, not just by using a camera reader).
4. Transferring money
Sticking with WeChat (I promise, there are other platforms that use QR), the social network allows users to receive funds via QR code without having to add the payer as a friend or use a separate wallet service.
WeChat users create a QR code with a set monetary value attached, which is automatically sent via WeChat Payments.
This is a popular method of sending red envelopes at Chinese New Year. Indeed, these New Year payments in 2016 numbered more than 8bn.
That’s well over the 4.9bn payments PayPal processed in the whole of 2015.
5. Making payments offline
Similar to transferring money online to a friend, paying a merchant offline can be done via QR, with the merchant again specifying an amount.
This means street vendors, for example, can have different QR codes for different products, enabling quick and easy payment.
Alternatively, much like some Western systems we are familiar with (e.g. Starbucks), users can often present a QR code in-app, which is then scanned by the retailer at the point-of-sale.
"Scan QR code to follower our WeChat account. We accept both #WeChat payment and #Alipay!", says sweet potato vendor pic.twitter.com/zMkMZZ4FGm
— WalktheChat (@WalktheChat) January 14, 2016
6. Product history and verification
QR has been used to add product and supply chain history on the side of packaging.
This can include manufacturing and shipping dates, and distributors.
7. Installing apps
Third-party apps are often installed via QR code.
QR readers exist as standalone apps but also in-browser, to allow this interaction to take place online.
The photo below (from 88 Bar, a Chinese tech and media blog) shows QR codes allowing tourists to access apps and services to augment their visit.
8. Website login
To improve security of online services, some websites offer login by scanning a QR code using the site’s own app, precluding the entering of a password.
Some social networks can also be used for authentication, similarly scanning the website QR.
9. Sharing a password protected WiFi network
In one example highlighted by Dan Grover, Xiaomi (the popular phone manufacturer) and its OS WiFi connection UI ‘includes…a way to share credentials to a password-protected network with a friend via a QR code’.
10. Connecting to a hotspot
Somewhat similar to third-party authentication for websites, QR in WeChat can be used on or in place of hotspot portal pages, previously typified by poor UX (a combo of CAPTCHA and SMS etc.).
…that’s it, a whistle-stop tour through the unheralded (at least in the West) uses of QR codes.
Let us know in the comments if you know of any more implementations, on any continent.