Almost everyone I talked to in the industry told us: no. The reaction was so overwhelming that we became highly suspicious. After all opinions are like the stock market. When everyone screams "buy" it's usually time to sell.
Because one of our clients insisted on a QR code marketing strategy in a country where almost 90% of people use a chat app called LINE - which has a built-in QR scanner - we decided to find out. We conducted several focus groups and stationed our researchers at strategic locations around the city where QR codes are used. This included posters by the city government, doctors offices' and hospitals (where QR codes are used to make reservations and jump the queue). We also checked supermarket posters, flyers, and locations on public transport.
Our results are very much in line with that of a much broader based recent study recently conducted by IXResearch.
- Around 60% of people will scan a QR code if it offers details about a specific event - such as sign up options, event times, campaign details etc.
- The same percentage will scan a code if the adjoining text clearly specifies discounts or special sales offers.
- Only 26% say they use QR codes to redeem coupons, examine a product's provenance or history, and even fewer, 21% use it to actually shop for anything. When asked why the shopping option is less attractive, respondents answered that shopping via QR code usually means signing up to a company's proprietary e-commerce solution, which is perceived as cumbersome.
(There's a way around this, and a reason most companies should give up their own e-commerce solutions anyway. Read more here.)
As for any other use of QR codes, the numbers of active scanners are tiny. When the QR code is not accompanied by a detailed explanation of what it does and where it leads to, uptake is equally low. Thus, in a nutshell, despite the convenience and penetration rate of scanning devices, i.e. smart phones, QR codes only work when consumers perceive an immediate benefit and that benefit is clearly explained next to the QR code. (Which is perhaps why the first question our focus group members asked when shown specific codes was always: What does it do?)
The question now is how to use QR codes for digital marketing effectively. Since the shopping function has such low conversion rates and only events and campaigns are perceived as attractive, we decided to turn our client's product offering into an event instead. QR codes offered an easy way to sign up via LINE. Early registration promised a chance to win giveaways. The QR codes added customers to a LINE group, which in turn offers a great platform to move them over to Facebook and disseminate further offers. The update was truly spectacular and we are happy with the results. It is however much more difficult measuring real conversion rates that way, but that is another story.
QR codes are a shortcut - and that's the way they should be used. If you only want to drive traffic to a generic shopping website, or to a convoluted sign-up procedure, they will not work. And if you do not clearly explain what happens after scanning, they won't convert either.
Therefore the answer to the original question: yes they do, if you do them right. At least in Asia.