2013 QR Market Summary: Are QR Codes Dead or Alive?


Mobile commerce had another great year in 2013 – more people have used their mobile devices to shop, get product information, compare prices, redeem coupons, and pay their bills.

The QR Code is, by far, the leading technology for taking consumers from Offline to Online (O2O). In comparison to NFC, which saw some 250 million enabled smartphones shipped this year with negligible consumer awareness, over 750 million smartphone users have actively downloaded a dedicated QR scanner app like ScanBuy, i-nigma, QR Droid or RedLaser. Despite premature posts and videos proclaiming QR Codes are Dead, the interest in QR Codes as measured by Google Trends has remained high and stable on a global level over the past year. Data from ScanLife demonstrated considerable growth in scans in Western countries throughout 2013, mainly by 35-44 year-old males.

QR codes are hot in Asia!In Asia, excitement around QR Codes continued to grow. On its celebrated annual presentation about internet trends, Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkin referenced the 4x growth in QR Code generation and scans in China. Imageco, a Chinese leader in mobile coupons, reported that the number of QR codes scanned in China surpassed in August for the first time the number of QR codes generated, with over 60 million codes each. One of the leading QR scanner apps in China, Ling Dong Kuai Pai, reported over 1.2 million QR code scans an hour (!) at peak times… QR codes proved extremely popular in Chinese retail with 51% of enterprises adopting QR as part of their marketing strategies. Moreover, all the major Asian social networks, such as WeChat, Line, Sina Weibo and RenRen, accounting together for over a mobile billion users, have added QR Code scanners to their mobile apps and QR Codes to their user profiles. Facebook followed suit in October.

QR Codes also gained popularity in payments in 2013, with global players like MasterCard and PayPal and local ones like Indonesia’s Ipaymu using QR Codes for identification and authentication. Apple’s Passbook on iOS7 also comes with built-in QR technology. Microsoft began using QR Code technology in the Xbox One console this year, allowing gamers to redeem codes by displaying a QR Code to the Kinect camera. Surprisingly, one of the most successful players in QR mobile payments this year was a college student, who got $26,000 by waiving a cool poster with a QR code leading to his Bitcoin wallet. As mobile payments continue to gain traction in 2014, so would QR Code usage increase accordingly.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of Visual QR Codes created on our platform in 2013, the most popular uses were referring consumers to the business’ website (68%), downloading a vCard or referring to a mobile business card (8%), and bringing fans to a Facebook page (6%). Dozens of other uses shared the remaining 18%, including displaying a video, downloading an app, and navigating to a specific location. We expect video and apps to gain momentum in harnessing QR Code technology in 2014.

Despite their numerous advantages, QR Codes at large are still black and white, ugly, and meaningless. Visualead’s patent-pending technology addresses this challenge, demonstrating superior image conservation with near-perfect scannability. In A/B tests we’ve conducted with customers this year, Visual QR Codes proved to increase consumer engagement by 40% to 200% compared to regular black and white codes.

QR Codes remain the most effective way to drive consumers from the physical world to a mobile website. Marketers need to make better use of QR Codes, as suggested by Scott Stratten’s new book “QR Codes Kill Kittens”, but all evidence suggests that QR codes are not dead at all. They’re very much alive and kicking.

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