August 10, 2011, 12:14 PM

2-D bar code surveys only offer a snapshot

Growth in use began soaring last year.

Lead Photo

Some executives in retail who find 2-D bar codes enticing may be disappointed to see the survey results from media and marketing firm Ypulse that came out today. The firm finds that only 17% of high school and college students have scanned a Quick Response, or QR, code, a type of 2-D bar code that appears as a small black and white square found in increasing numbers on signs, in ads and on product packaging. When scanned by the camera on a smartphone with a 2-D reader app, they link a consumer to anything a merchant or other business can post on the mobile web.

Common wisdom says the young are the first to adopt new technologies, right? But one factor here is that the very young are more likely to have feature phones than smartphones, research firms have found. And the survey asks all students, not just smartphone owners.

Among smartphone owners the 2-D story is different. 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 scanned a 2-D bar code, according to a survey by MGH, a web and mobile marketing firm.

I find one-third or one-quarter to be an impressive stat at this stage of the game. But if you don’t, fear not. For these are just snapshots of 2-D codes—which come in flavors including Quick Response, or QR, codes and Microsoft Tags. They’re points on a line with a sharp angle heading north.

I’ve recently talked with a number of companies that offer free 2-D bar code reader apps and paid 2-D bar code campaign services. These are the firms enabling the scans for smartphone owners, and they all told me that 2010 saw remarkable growth for 2-D bar code scanning. For example, Scanbuy Inc. offers the ScanLife reader app for free in app stores (all 2-D bar code reader apps are free). It says the number of scans it processed grew 1,600% in 2010 compared with 2009.

QR codes have been widely used in Asian countries, especially Japan, for the last 10 years; for the last five years in Europe. Not it’s our turn. These things are growing fast. You can’t miss them popping up in magazines and stores. And they enable a unique feat—transporting readers or in-store shoppers to the mobile web, where retailers can present them all kinds of content, such as how-to videos, product reviews and sweepstakes entry forms.

Given that you can go to any number of web sites to generate QR codes for free (just Google “QR code generators”), and with many get free basic analytics, I believe you should give them a try. It absolutely can’t hurt. But it’s important to include a little text around the code educating consumers on what it is and how to use it, and providing a call to action. It doesn’t have to be much. It can be as simple as “Scan this code to receive a special discount.”

For much more information on what to do and how to do it, stay tuned for my September Internet Retailer magazine cover story on 2-D bar codes. Sears, Lowe’s, GNC, eBay, Mister Landscaper and others talk about how they’re using 2-D bar codes to engage customers and boost sales.

The Nielsen Co. says by year’s end half of all mobile phones in use will be smartphones. And soon consumers will be surrounded by 2-D bar codes. Are you ready?

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