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QR Code Fails: How Marketers Are Misusing QR Codes and Ruining UX

Mobile & Apps

A QR (quick response) code is a bridge between the on and offline worlds. With the use of a scan app, it can link the user to your content, providing a richer consumer experience. The intended use of these codes is in the offline medium. However, that does not mean QR Codes cannot be used successfully online. But it does mean marketers have to consider if a QR code is the best tool for the job.

I will go through some bad examples, but first I’ll sum it up like this – Think UX before making your customer pull out his phone and scan a code. Don’t do it because it’s “cool”. Don’t ask your customers to scan a code if they are already online or if they probably won’t be able to anyway. And never, but NEVER, give them a code without letting them know what to expect.

Don’t make them work for it!

First example of a “bad practice”: Using it on a website. The customer is already on your website. You want him/her to access another page. And here are two options: a click on a link, or making him/her pull out a phone, start an app, scan the code and get on that page (on a smaller screen). Why, given the choice, do you think anyone would choose the second option? Consider this also: what if your customer is mobile? You lost him…

Quick fix: use a link instead. Links have been used for so long because they work. Also, let’s be honest, QR codes don’t look that good (while for links you can use any image or text). If I didn’t convince you, at least consider placing the QR code (which is an image after all) as a link.

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A special case could be the use of QR codes in movies (on YouTube for example). It might seem as a good idea, but then again, why not provide the customer with a(n easy to use) link. You can place it as an annotation.

Though it would not seem necessary to touch on this particular case, experience tells otherwise. Do not use QR codes in apps. Your customers are on the phone, how are they supposed to scan it? It’s a bad idea.

Will they be able to scan it?

Another way marketers are misusing QR codes is by placing them where it’s unlikely the user will be able to scan the codes – on Billboards, on the highway, for example. Let’s picture a scenario: your customers are driving by and see a code. What are they supposed to do? Rush to pull out the phone and scan it? Well, chances are they’ll drive past it before they get the chance to do so.

Quick fix? There isn’t one really, but you do have options. First of all, don’t use them where they are not appropriate. Try an easy to remember URL, or find a way to motivate the customer to look for you online.

Also, do not use QR codes in TV ads. What use will it be putting a code for 2-3 seconds on the screen? It is true many use their smartphones while watching TV, but still they will most likely not have the time to scan it. One last thing: be aware of difficult to scan places. If you use it in a magazine, for example, don’t place it near the fold. Readers might have trouble scanning the code and just give up.

Don’t abuse your customers!

I see many QR codes without any clue to what they are for. Is the code for a promotion, does it lead to a website or Facebook page? I understand some marketers are trying to use the customer’s curiosity as a trigger. A better strategy is making a valuable proposition to your clients. Let them know what they get in exchange for the time to scan the QR code. If your proposition is good, it will work much better than just relying on curiosity.

Also, by letting people know what to expect when scanning a code, there is little chance they will feel tricked. For example, if a QR code triggers a like on a Facebook page, your customer might not like it and feel used.

And then again

Of course there are exceptions. A really creative use of a QR code on a website can motivate the user to scan it. It is all about what your customer is getting in exchange for his/her time and effort. The solution is to keep in mind QR codes are bridges between the digital and physical worlds and should be used accordingly. Before using QR codes, ask yourself if you would scan it.

In closing, here is a creative and good use of QR codes I’ve recently seen.

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Comments on this Article: 8

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  1. Emma says:

    I like reading about QR codes. They certainly aren’t being effectively used right now. I hope that 2012 will see companies understanding these things a little more. I’ve written two blog posts on QR codes: one showing, like this one, how companies are getting it wrong, and the other is on how they should be using them, like on product boxes.

    • Gabriel Marinescu says:

      Exactly, Emma, companies are using them right now like a kid uses a new toy – without really knowing how tut them to good use. I share your hope (and belief) that 2012 will bring some more clarity and definition to the practices of social and mobile marketing.

  2. @Rhuarhii says:

    Drilling home the point that every time you use a QR code you must have a clear strategy that boosts the customer experience is most timely. People tend to spray them around like confetti

  3. Gabriel Marinescu says:

    That is right, @Rhuarhii. QR codes can be a great tool in the hands of a marketer, but only used as part of a comprehensive strategy.

  4. Beth says:

    Gabriel,
    Great article! Here’s an interesting clip from an upcoming documentary about QR codes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WkJwhLHugQ In this outtake, Philip Warbasse touches on what you are talking about from a developers perspective.

    • Gabriel Marinescu says:

      From what I’ve seen in this clip, seems like a documentary I’d like to see. Can’t wait for it!

  5. Ray says:

    I am working on an angle to use TV as a medium. Since I am in the automotive sector we have a dealership that has a infomercial showing the vehicles they have for sale. They have continuous banner displayed that would be great to add a QR Code to. That would give the scanners time to react. But you are correct I have seen ads that show a code only for it to be gone by the time I get ready to scan.

  6. Gabriel Marinescu says:

    As long as the user has time to scan it, it is an option. But let them know what that code will do. Have a value proposition, use a CTA. Customers expect more from a code than from a link. For example, one idea could be using it to add a social dimension.

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