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QR codes may be popular among marketers, but the vast majority of consumers (64%) don't know what they are for. 

According to a survey of 794 online respondents by Simpson Carpenter, just 36% of consumers know what QR codes are for, while 11% have actually used them? 

Does this lack of awareness mean that QR codes are not such a valuable tool, or do they target a smaller but potentially more valuable audience? 

How useful do consumers find QR codes? 

Amongst the 11% of respondents that had actually used a QR code, just under half (47%) said they found them very useful and would like to see them more widely available, a third (33%) found them useful on certain occasions and don’t mind using them.

However, a fifth (20%) think they don’t really offer any advantages and don’t expect to use them in future.

Barriers to QR adoption

52% of respondents didn't have a device that was capable of scanning QR codes, while 15% said they haven’t seen a QR code for any website they are interested in and 11% considered that there are other ways of getting to websites that are simpler, quicker and more convenient.

Other surveys on QR usage

A recent comScore survey found that 14m US mobile users, which equates to 6.2% of the total mobile audience, scanned a QR code in June 2011. As with the UK survey, this suggests that QR code use is very much a minority activity.

However, the same survey found that 54.7% of the people that scanned QR codes had a household income of $75,000 or more (with 36% over $100k), suggesting that marketers are targeting a wealthier audience. 

Implications for marketers

Just because a minority are aware of and using QR codes doesn't make it a worthless marketing tactic, but marketers do need to be aware of their audience when planning campaigns. 

It's also likely that awareness of QR codes will increase as they become more common, and more people use smartphones.

Include a barcode scanner in your mobile apps

One way to ensure that your customers can use your barcodes is to add this function to mobile apps.

For example, Debenhams, which has been using QR codes instore, added a barcode scanner to its recent apps, meaning that customers with the app don't need to seek out a QR reader app. 

Include alternative response mechanisms

Don't rely on QR codes alone. To avoid excluding people without smartphones or those without a reader app, then provide other ways for them to respond to ads, or find out more about products. 

For example, Wilkinson Sword used ads in Tesco's shelves recently, with a QR code being the most prominent response mechanism. However, a URL and SMS code were also included: 

Get the landing page right

There's little point in persuading people to scan your QR codes if you haven't created a usable landing page. Tim Dunn has an example of this in a recent post on QR

MI5's QR code led to a page that had not been optimised for mobile:

Be creative, and give people a compelling reason to scan

There have been some excellent creative examples of QR code use by marketers, such as Tesco's subway supermarket, or Radisson Edwardian adding QR codes to menus

People need a good reason to scan codes. 

Graham Charlton

Published 5 September, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (18)

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Perhaps a question on how many consumers have actually come across a QR code and not knowing what it was would have been useful.

I know a number of people who have seen a QR code but didn't know what it was and what it's called.

about 5 years ago



hmmm I'm surprised that so many knew what QR codes were. I suspect the number is higher than I was expecting as it's an online survey and I further suspect that an online audience would have more exposure to the codes.

Another surprising nugget is that approx half didn't have a device that could run the software - this makes me wonder when the survey was completed.

about 5 years ago



We had seen these about a lot for a while and to be honest it did take a while to understand their function / what they were for. I do think they have a good concept though!

about 5 years ago



Ultimately, they're never going to take off while you have to download a specific app to read them. The only people who would do that are people who either actively seek being marketed to or those with a passing curiousity in the reliability of the technology. iOS, Andriod, Blackberry etc, would need to add the QR reading functionality to their default camera application to give it a chance IMHO

about 5 years ago

Sanjit Chudha

Sanjit Chudha, Integrated Marketing & Communications Consultant at Personal

@Edmund - I agree and that is a good point.

@Graham - As a digital marketer and strategist I am a digital native so freely experiment wish QR codes among other approaches. For the vast majority of people I know who are perhaps not digital natives, this is unexplored and meaningless territory - which bears out the survey findings to a great extent. I suspect it may be your experience too?

As with all innovations, my view is that it isn't the 'holy grail' , merely another way of reaching people, that is all.

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Sanjit,

Though the sample is small, the survey results ring true, but the minority uptake doesn't mean marketers shouldn't use them. I can see awareness and use of QR codes growing in the near future, so definitely worth experimenting with them.

about 5 years ago


Wholesale Directory

It is observed that most of the consumers are not well aware about QR. They do not take interest in it whether it is very important for every consumer to understand that what is the worth and how much important it is for your personal and business growth. I do agree with Leuan because I personally asked by a large number of consumers about QR but they say in response that they are not aware about it. So, at least understanding is very important with this word if you really want to learn and gain something. Good research and nice writing Graham.

about 5 years ago


Simpson Carpenter

Hello Everyone,
This is Paul from Simpson Carpenter, we carried out the research which was used in this article. Ieuan, in answer to your question we interviewed people within the last month. We believe that the reason people say their device cannot read QRcodes is linked to Edmund's point on needing to download apps to do this.

Sanjit, your comments certainly ring true. Most consumers don't share the passion that digital professionals have for the online world ... until they find out what's in it for them!

about 5 years ago

Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy, Joint MD & Digital Director at The Real AdventureEnterprise

I don't think QR codes are dead in the water yet as some are predicting.

Yes, they've been around for a long time and still don't have huge take-up (at least, not here in the UK).

In Japan, devices typically have built-in QR scanning capabilities within their cameras as Edmund suggests above. If (when?) this happens here in the UK, uptake will surely rise dramatically.

Awareness is definitely growing and more & more marketers are testing the water with QR campaigns.

As with all new technology, it won't fly on its own without a compelling reason - it has to add some real value to the consumer's life.

QR campaigns that fail in the basics certainly don't help drive their uptake - I'm thinking of the classic mistakes, eg:
- putting them in places where there's no mobile signal (eg underground!)
- having a non-mobile optimised landing page
Campaigns like this that don't deliver a value-added user experience will damage peoples' understanding and expectation of them.

The user experience is also different depending on the device and the particular app being used. So it's vital that we marketers test codes on a variety of apps & devices to ensure the user experience is as we are intending.

I'm sure the QR debate will run for a while longer...but we're certainly still testing them out where we believe they can bring real added value with our clients' consumers.

about 5 years ago


Daniel Cooper

I believe a prerequisite to using QR codes is to have a mobile optimised destination to take the user to.

If there's no mobile optimised content then QR codes will remain of limited use/appeal. A seamless customer experience is key, as well as education on the benefits of using the codes.

about 5 years ago


Dave Pugh

I think it's encouraging that 1/3 of Consumers surveyed DO know what a QR code is ... they are still worth targeting.

Your comment on providing alternative mechanism's for non-scan aware consumers is relevant. The NDial mobile tagging system addresses this requirement by incorporating a Word as a alternative connector.

ndial.com for details.

Thanks for a useful and relevant post.

about 5 years ago


Dan Limb

Perhaps the 'two thirds' figure should not be glazed over. It could well guise us marketeers into using them mostly for targeting the more tech-savvy amongst our users. By bearing this statistic in mind, we have the opportunity to deliver more relevant and interesting content as a reward for those who are 'in the know'.

about 5 years ago


Brandon Proctor

"According to a survey of 794 online respondents by Simpson Carpenter, just 36% of consumers know what QR codes are for, while 11% have actually used them?"

This is a poor representation of data. "794 ONLINE respondents", which means that every single one of these people is somewhat tech savvy. I would wage that if you went to your local shopping mall and asked the question of the same number of people that about 5-10% would actually know what QR codes are.

This is another example of how stats give much more hype to a shiny object, which really isn't worth much today.

I love them though, because they convert offline shoppers to online shoppers. I say more QR codes in brick and mortar to convert more people to the online world of shopping!

about 5 years ago


Margaret OHalloran

Paul (@Simpson Carter) - did you do an age breakdown on the consumers you interviewed?

about 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

I actually ran a QR campaign 2 weeks ago, since my previous article. We accompanied it with an SMS route as well, and the SMS response was virtually non-existent, which the QR performed well.

User behaviour has rapidly moved away from SMS response, given the choice, and now I think we can be confident in looking at other forms of mobile ad response...

about 5 years ago


Bob Moura

Anyone have suggestions for companies that provide smart phone optimized QR code landing pages as well a good data collection in order to collect campaign statistics?

about 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Bob, you might try wapple.net

about 5 years ago


Sandy Low

@Bob - You could try Kimtag.

almost 5 years ago

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