August 10, 2011, 11:26 AM

17% of students have scanned QR codes with their smartphones

But 64% don't know what a QR code is, a new survey finds.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Usually it’s the young that are first to adopt new technologies. If that’s the case with QR codes, then the two-dimensional codes that link the physical world to the online realm have a ways to go.

64% of high school and college students in a survey by youth media and marketing firm Ypulse say they have no idea what a QR code is. Of the 36% familiar with the little black-and-white squares that are increasingly appearing on signs, ads and product packages, only 17% have scanned them: 4% have scanned a QR code once, 6% two or three times, and 7% four or more times. 6% of the 1,300 survey respondents say they are aware of the technology but have not scanned because they cannot figure out how to do it. 13% say they are aware of the codes but have never scanned them, and that they could figure out how to use the codes but don’t want to.

Of those students who have used QR codes, the majority find them helpful. 42% of survey respondents say the codes are easy to use and useful, 13% say they’re useful but not easy, and 9% say they’re easy but not useful. 5% of survey respondents say QR codes are neither easy nor useful and 31% say they don’t know enough about QR codes to make a judgment.

Of students who have scanned QR codes, 52% found the QR code in a magazine, 44% on a poster or outdoor display, 39% on an in-store display, 28% in a newspaper, 26% at an event, and 26% on a product tag. Respondents could choose more than one answer.

“We think of teens and college students as being so tech-savvy that they can figure out anything, but QR codes have them somewhat baffled,” says Melanie Shreffler, editor in chief of Ypulse. “Considering that QR codes direct users to online information, brands and retailers should also provide consumers with simple URLs, which don’t require a learning curve, to make sure everyone can access the information they want to share.”The Ypulse findings that only 17% of students have used QR codes, however, are in contrast to other recent 2-D bar code studies. (QR is the most popular 2-D bar code format, but there are others, notably Microsoft Corp.’s Tag.)

24% of smartphone owners report having scanned a 2-D bar code to obtain more information about a product, business or event, according to the June 2011 Mobile Dependence Day Report by ExactTarget, an e-mail and mobile messaging technology provider. And 32% of smartphone owners say they have used a 2-D bar code, according to a survey by MGH, a web and mobile marketing firm.

The difference may be in the devices in hand. Research firms have found that younger consumers are more likely to have a feature phone—the less-powerful predecessor to the smartphone—than a smartphone, later graduating to a smartphone. Feature phones are less likely to run apps or facilitate code scanning. So many in the 64% in the Ypulse study who don’t know what a QR code is may be unaware because QR codes are not relevant to their devices.

Comments | 1 Response

  • My name is Dan Coates and I am the president of Ypulse, the research company cited above. Our research from January 2011 has found that a quarter of high school students and nearly half of college students currently have a smartphone. While some of us are fans of QR codes for their ability to provide information in situ, I can assure you that the digital natives of Gen Y are more than comfortable searching and finding digital content using a search engine ... regardless of their physical location. Capturing the usage of Gen Y (the largest generation in U.S. history) is critical to the future of any technology. So far, QR codes are a technology in search of a compelling 'use case' for this generation.

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