QR Codes: A Technology Asset or Failure?

Have any of you had success with QR Code technology? By some reports they are making a comeback. But, on the other side of the coin, on an episode of Shark Tank late last year, renowned venture investor Chris Sacca commented that QR codes are “the herpes of mobile technology.”

Yes, pretty harsh, but his words, not mine!

Technology is sometimes a fickle thing. In 1994, a company named Denso Wave created QR code technology. Marketers were excited as this was an interactive and easy way to pass information onto the consumer. An interesting aside is that, according to an article on Gizmodo, Denso Wave was owned by Toyota and this technology was initially used to “track vehicles as they were assembled and to scan components at high speed.”

Over the years auto dealers have wavered on the use of QR codes as most consumers disliked the difficult process of scanning them. According to ComScore, by December 2011, seventeen years after their introduction, only 20 percent of Americans, 16 percent of Canadians, and 12 percent of Spanish and UK smartphone owners used QR codes at all, as they were far from user friendly. Cell phones required a QR code reader application and those were also hard to use. To compound the inconvenience, the smartphone needed a data signal. And, it wasn’t that long ago that many cell phone plans limited data usage and consumers were careful with their data. As a result, the QR code promptly lost its popularity with consumers and, if consumers weren’t interested, marketers certainly were not!

But now, it appears, QR codes are making a comeback. The question is “why?”

As smartphone technology and software has evolved, cell phone manufacturers are again looking at the benefits of QR codes. Marketers always need simple and effective ways to quickly and easily convey a lot of information to consumers. As the smartphone is still the best venue for that, phone manufacturers responded.

Two operating systems; Apple’s iOS and Android, account for 99.9% of all cell phones sold last year – a whopping 1.5 billion. As of Apple’s current iOS 11, all iPhones have the capability to scan QR codes simply by pointing the phone’s camera – no app required. And, from the iPhone 5s  on up, all iPhones can run iOS 11 and, well, Apple pretty much forces an upgrade.

Each Android phone running Marshmallow and above (which is most of them) has the same ability to simply scan QR codes. So, as of right now, pretty much every phone sold has the native ability to scan QR codes built right into it, making QR codes less of a hassle and easier for consumers to use. Add in the fact that  most cell phone providers now offer unlimited data, and that marketers, including dealers and OEMs, still need a way to convey large sums of information in relatively little space, and there is certainly something here to support the possibility that QR codes could make a comeback.

But, as with most technology, all is not golden. Chris Sacca has made it very clear that he sees no future in QR Codes. Perhaps he was referring to them being visually ugly and confusing for most users. He went on to say that: “the user experience sucks … it should be as simple as: buy some stuff, get a ride … period. Please, light the QR codes on fire.” And this is the guy that invested in seed and early-stage technology companies such as Twitter, Uber, Instagram,Twilio, and Kickstarter, investments that resulted in his placement as No. 2 on Forbes’ Midas List: Top Tech Investors for 2017, so he seems to be a skilled predictor of trends technology-wise.

This certainly presents an interesting situation. Apple and Android predict a comeback for QR codes as a low-cost way for merchants to interact with the consumer’s device. However, a key thought leader thinks otherwise.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Will QR codes make a comeback as mobile providers have simplified the process? Are they now, in fact, an efficient way to provide customers with rich information about a vehicle – new or used – without having to stock hundreds of boxes of brochures? Or, is Sacca right, and consumers have lost interest due to past bad experiences and should the technology be set on fire? Or, lastly, is there perhaps some middle ground where QR code technology needs further improvement before it is truly a useful tool for both dealers and consumers?