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Since QR codes were created in 1994, they have appeared almost everywhere. Marketers used them on drink labels, business cards and even advertising space. No matter how trendy they were, many consumers always saw them as a gimmick rather than a useful tool. That was the case until the pandemic renewed interest in the untapped potential related to them. When quarantine forced social distancing and contact avoidance, QR code technology experienced a renaissance, especially as retail and restaurants sought contactless options to stay afloat. QR codes could also be strategically leveraged to provide a clear and immediate benefit to consumers: avoiding having to touch everything from menus to payment terminals to pens.

It is true that there are a number of benefits and risks of QR codes in marketing. Contactless payment technology was already on the rise before the pandemic due to the expansion of digital technology and the growing demand for convenience. But the pandemic augmented this growth as consumers sought new ways to securely make purchases while physically distancing themselves.

As a result, the global contactless payment technology market is now anticipated to reach nearly $4.7 billion by 2027. QR codes are becoming the preferred solution for marketers to connect the digital and physical worlds. Now that they can simply be scanned and read with a smartphone camera, without the need for a separate app or point-of-sale system, they finally have a chance to shine.

Despite the radical change, there are still many risks associated with QR codes. Security is the biggest issue with payment by this means. Companies must ensure that their technology is robust enough to safeguard customers’ payment information. Cyberattacks increased during the pandemic and hackers took advantage of the increased use of QR codes.

To ride the wave of QR code innovation, marketers can take three steps to harness the power of contactless payment technology in the future:

  • Learn from other retailers using QR codes

Beyond contactless payment technology transactions, many companies use QR codes to offer special sales and contests, behind-the-scenes content and social media engagement opportunities. For example, beauty company Supergoop added QR codes to its new product launch displays in Sephora stores, guiding visitors to more content and resources related to ingredients and product formulation. 

Walmart and Target were among the first physical stores to implement QR codes on cashless payment systems; they took this bold step because they knew the ease and elimination of the need for cash appealed to millennials. 

  • Show proof of concept

If the team is skeptical of QR codes, the goal is to create a simple plan to test them. If the stakes are low, it’s easier to get buy-in from leadership. For example, there are companies that use QR codes on their event booths. Let’s say a wedding photographer who offers free half-hour engagement sessions for couples. By having a QR code on your booth, you can give visitors an easy way to register for the offer, which is very valuable and provides an excellent user experience, while capturing their email address and contact information.

  • If QR codes don’t work, don’t force their use.

There is a time and a place for QR codes. If they were tried in several different strategic contexts but were not very successful, there is no reason to force it. You should think of these codes as one more tool in the box of marketing options. You may need to try a different tactic if you ultimately find that QR codes do not benefit the business or advance your objectives.

There are both risks and benefits of QR codes in marketing. In most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks if you provide customers with a more secure and convenient way to purchase products or services. That’s why so many retailers are using QR codes and others are ready to explore the innovation of these new technologies. 


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