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.