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QR codes: the core tech that is much more than it seems at first - Scan2know

QR codes were first introduced in 1994 for manufacturing tasks by Toyota, in the car industry, and are now used in some 200 countries. According to Neil Patel, (one of the top online marketing bloggers worldwide and web influencer), “Nearly half of all smartphone users have used their phones while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores – 40% of them to compare the competition’s prices.” The main user profile is in the age range between 25-34. Leading countries for using QR codes are Japan, the U.S. (around 60% approximately), followed by Canada and the U.K.

In an article in the Economist (November 2, 2017) about the increased interest in the West it commented, “The QR code could soon flourish beyond East Asia, though. Apple has responded to the codes’ popularity in China by updating the camera app in iOS 11…It now automatically recognises a QR code that encodes web links, map locations, contact cards and other data. Apple was not even the first to jump on the Asian trend. Other handset-makers (notably Motorola) have included QR-code recognition in their cameras, and some apps include code recognition in their camera features. These include WhatsApp, which allows users to confirm a contact’s identity with a QR code; the new generation of bike-sharing systems, which lack central docking stations and get riders to scan QR codes to unlock bikes; and SnapChat’s own version of 2D codes, which it launched in 2015. But Apple’s free upgrade means that QR-scanning will reach hundreds of millions of users worldwide.” This single event provided an ease of scanning QR codes which was the boost that the technology required to become mainstream in Western Europe where its usage was less common than Asia and the US, and as we see from the graph below the increase in QR code usage in the last three years has been greatest in Europe.


Payments have been another key beneficiary of the utilisation of QR codes, borne out by investigation carried out by Juniper Research (January 2018), which concluded “retailers are set to take advantage of an increasingly receptive audience for QR codes. For example, US retailer Target announced a QR code-based payments system to scan offers directly to their device stored payment cards, which can then be scanned at checkout for instant payment.” Hot on the heels of Target in the US are Sainsbury´s (with their SmartShop concept), Tesco and even the Co-op, in the UK as well as many other countries (Italy in May of this year). All of these want to reinvent the shopping experience and make it more convenient, quicker and user-friendly. A store QR code is scanned for payment once product barcodes have been individually scanned and bagged. This is a major step forward – albeit in its infancy at the moment – in terms of utilisation of QR codes in Europe for everyday usage and will encourage non-users to take the plunge and raise the awareness and usage of QR codes.

Another article, from the Memo, of December 7th 2017, stated “in 2018 they (QR codes) could be about to make an explosive comeback, backed by the likes of Apple, Facebook, Pinterest and an army of new developers…In Japan and China, QR codes have almost become a second language.” These codes are “even popping up on bottles of wine to prove their provenance, or on food packaging as a way of packing even more nutritional information onto small packages. They are the hyperlinks and bookmarks of the real world, and now they could be about to make a global comeback”.

A more recent online publication (econsultancy, 18 April 2019) on the Pros & Cons of QR Codes confirmed that “virtually anything can be turned into an interaction point that will take the viewer to a digital experience, or accomplish a digital task. QR codes can be used to display text to the user, compose an email or a text message, carry out a payment, and much more.”

There are a number of functionalities that QR codes offer that make them extremely useful from a business perspective:

  • They connect the offline to online (any product to a mobile-optimised web page to show digitally whatever information that could be relevant or of interest to the consumer in the buying process)
  • The consumer can be offered the chance to download an app which could provide richer content and more interesting information relevant to that product and its history
  • When scanned at the point of sale or consumption a brand can inform the consumer about raw material provenance and can engage them further if they want to be part of a mailing list for special offers, recipe ideas, new products etc.
  • Using web analytics, and unique QR codes, marketers can gain valuable information about how well campaigns are going, and what works and what does not
  • Using the scan2know QR codes, and the possibility to link products sold to a particular location, brands and manufacturers can avoid grey market imports and investigate these when they do occur, avoiding lost revenue, channel conflicts and ensuring that products are only authenticated when located at an authorised site to do so (particularly useful for high value items supposed to be sold exclusively through authorised resellers)


An article in Small Business trends (What Is a QR Code and How Does It Work? February 12, 2019 by Mark O’Neill) stated that “this (QR) code is something which small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be aware of since it is increasingly becoming an important tool…The QR code has many advantages over a conventional barcode, however. The main advantage is that you can store up to a hundred times more information on a QR code than on a conventional horizontal barcode. In addition, QR codes can be scanned from any direction for 360 degrees. This makes them easier for your device to read and lessens the possibility of background interference. The third main advantage is that from a marketing point of view, the code’s appearance is unique and interesting, increasing the likelihood of engaging the customer in any campaign where it might be deployed.”


So clearly today QR codes are still an intrinsic way of engaging with consumers digitally, economically and easily. However, one of the drawbacks of them has been the ubiquity of QR code readers, and free versions tended to come with annoying advertisements. HolaTECH´s own scan2know application (free on Google and Apple play stores) is a generic QR code reader which is entirely ad-free, albeit when scanning codes produced by HolaTECH also opens up a world of additional information about a product: from its authentication to the provenance of raw materials, possibility to engage further with the brand and register for special discounts and offers, and much more. From an article (Will QR Codes Make a Comeback in 2019?) by GlobalWebIndex (a market research company) on December 17, 2018 “Used in the right way, QR codes…are exciting consumer engagement tools for the future.” As a final comment the fact that LinkedIn have recently launched their own QR code that can be used from the mobile app, allowing you to scan QR codes on business cards or wherever it’s used in lieu of the url link to a profile, is further testimony to the QR code and its continued value and ease of use.


Barcodes are now also going to become a thing of the past. In January 2018, GS1 (the organisation that develops and maintains global standards for business communication, i.e. the barcode) launched the idea of creating a new standard for barcodes: the GS1 URI (Uniform Resource Identifier). This move is intended to replace the multiple codes now present on product packaging with a QR code, which has an increased database available with a simple scan on a dedicated URL webpage. This was finally launched in July 2018, making product digitisation possible at massive scale and allows physical products to connect to the web using an intelligent product identity in the cloud. So, while many years in the making before it reached its final iteration, the barcode has been with us since 1974, but with this new move the QR code is going to be a bigger part of everyone´s lives. Those not used to it will soon have to become very familiar.


While QR codes form the basis of the main stay of our offering, HolaTECH´s technology can be applied to other forms of authentication, such as NFC and RFID tags, where these are more appropriate and make cost sense to use. We are happy to discuss which form of authentication might be more suitable work with this to help authenticate any product.


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