The Return of the Humble QR Code

As digital investments skyrocketed amid the pandemic and technologies filled the market looking to meet new needs, not all technology was new. In fact, the QR code, which was originally introduced in the 1990s, saw rapid adoption by businesses looking to offer safe, contactless experiences to consumers.

According to data from SimilarWeb, the last 12 months have seen a sharp increase in the volume of people visiting a number of the market-leading QR code generator websites over the last 12 months.

Designed as an evolution of the bar code in Japan, the QR Code offers companies the ability to easily share large amounts of information and even enable contactless payments. Though compared to the time of the QR Code’s original introduction, today nearly every consumer carries smartphones, making QR Code technology that much more accessible.

And as stores, restaurants, fitness studios and other businesses started to reopen last year QR Codes have become popular in various uses of maintaining proper social distancing including providing links to digital menus, health or consent forms and payments.

“The reason why QR Codes though also became popular was for the merchant because in some cases, merchant terminals weren’t set up to take tapping, or set up to achieve those direct mobile payments,” said Zach Aron, U.S. banking and capital markets payments leader and co-leader of the global payments practice at Deloitte Consulting. “QR codes are really easy in that they could be literally printed out and just taped down.”

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At the same time, data from SimilarWeb suggests consumers are happy to engage through QR Codes as well, with younger consumers showing to be the most interested as 62 percent of visits from QR Codes from April 2020 to March 2021 came from consumers aged between 18 to 34.

Moreover, using QR Codes allows digital transactions to begin earlier in the consumer journey. For example, Aron said, in the case of a hair salon, stylists have been able to have individual QR codes printed out at the front of the store so that customers can check in for appointments and then pay a stylist directly after a service. Similarly, fitness studios have prompted consumers to use a QR Code displayed at a front desk to fill out health-related surveys or consent forms upon visiting.

In fact, Aron said, the QR Code, often begins the experience at the front door, and when used right can elevate the consumer experience in its entirety. For example, some businesses have set a QR Code as a means to communicate with the consumer in a contactless way. The code may bring the consumer to an app that allows options such as alerting sales personnel to bring out a BOPIS or curbside pick-up order or prompt a consumer to create a new order. By prompting the consumer to take a picture of the QR Code you have effectively initiated communication.

Still one of the most popular reasons for merchants to integrate QR Codes this year has been to provide consumers with contactless payment options.

Notably, PayPal began rolling out QR Code payments for touch-free in-person buying and selling technology in May 2020, as a health-conscious, safe and secure option. The option is now available in 600,000 retail locations across 28 global markets including CVS, Foot Locker, Nike, Levi’s, Bloomingdales and Macy’s.

In an official statement of the launch, the company described the technology as having the ability to be quickly implemented without the need of any new hardware, software or purchase. “From farmers markets, dog walkers, to restaurants, QR Codes benefit by being a form factor that offers more than just payments,” said Frank Keller, senior vice president of consumer in-store and digital commerce at PayPal.

“We saw rapid adoption of PayPal and Venmo QR Codes over the last year, with hundreds of thousands of small businesses and casual sellers offering the technology around the world, as a safe and touch-free way to pay during the pandemic,” Keller told WWD. “QR Codes also benefit by being a form factor that offers more than just payments. From information sharing such as menus, Loyalty, personalized customer recommendations, creating moments of delight all the way through to payments, QR Codes can offer both the consumer and the merchant a deeper and more personalized experience, optimized for conversion.”

Merchants can generate PayPal QR codes within the PayPal app which can then be printed or ordered from the PayPal webstore to display for consumers to scan.

One great example of adoption, Keller said, is Longstone Farm, a small business that adopted PayPal’s QR Codes to help successfully pivot from a cash-only business during the pandemic to offer consumers digital, touch-free payment options at their small farm and produce shop in Virginia.

Further, Keller said, PayPal has seen merchants experiencing double-digit increases in average basket sizes from consumers who frequently use its QR Codes. For consumers, the PayPal QR Code allows them the benefits of PayPal wallet in-store where shoppers can use a stored debit or credit cards, bank accounts, a PayPal balance or PayPal credit to pay.

Another adapter of the QR Code as a payment method is Facebook Pay who has “begun testing the ability for people to send or request money” on Messenger to make payments easier, according to a spokesperson from Facebook.

Looking forward, Aron said, as businesses continue to return to in-person operations QR Codes have enabled both consumers and merchants with the added convenience that is not likely to be disregarded when social distancing eases and may even provide more ways to elevate the consumer experience in the future.

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