The History of the QR Code - From Fad to Contact-Free Necessity

authorShannon Correia dateMarch 01, 2021

Quick Response (QR) codes have been around for two decades. In this article, we'll share the historical timeline of this beneficial black and white block, from the days when it was thought of as a fad for being too ahead of its time to the present day when businesses are increasingly relying on them in a multitude of ways. 

How Did the QR Code Come About?

In the early 1990s, Mr. Hara Masahiro, a Japanese engineer who made barcode scanners, noticed there were issues with the barcoding system. Barcodes had a limited data capacity, meaning that many barcodes were often needed to illustrate inside one box. More barcodes meant more scans in a process that was ultimately laborious and open to error. 

The solution to this was the QR code - a black and white 2D square of pixels that could hold a lot more information than the traditional barcode. To put this into context, barcodes could hold 20 characters per code, while QR codes can hold 100 times more characters. This is because QR codes can hold data vertically and horizontally, while barcodes can only to the latter. These squares make the sizing distinct and incorporate three squares in the corners, which allow for easy recognition by scanners. 

The QR code was launched in 1994 at an automobile trade industry meeting, which garnered a very positive reception. Car companies in Japan adopted these codes before spreading to other industries in the country and eventually around the world.

qr code

Why Did People Think of QR Codes as a Fad?

It was in the early 2010s that QR codes spread in usage beyond product cataloging. The turning point came with mobile devices' spread since the camera could act as a QR code scanner. The rising trend was thought to be a fad for the following reasons:

  • Slowness: Back in the day, internet connections were a lot slower than today; hence opening a link from a QR code wasn't as speedy and convenient as it is today. Cameras in the devices at the time were also of poorer quality and did not pick up on the codes as well or quickly. 
  • NFC: Near Field Communication was on the rise at this time - it allowed users to tap their device to share and transfer files. This was thought to be revolutionary and far more useful than a QR code. However, for this to work, one must be in close proximity for your device to accept or deliver a transfer. 
  • Security concerns: Since QR codes were relatively new to the consumer market, people were wary of opening links that could take them anywhere. It was not considered to be a secure source, and adaption and trust took time to develop.
  • Barriers: The difficulties associated with QR codes included downloading an app that could scan the code, as cameras could not do this automatically. This impacted the overall user experience. It was only in 2017 when iOS 11 was launched that this functionality was available, which now extends to Android devices. 

QR Codes Today - Standing the Test of Time

Today, millions of people make use of QR codes for a variety of reasons. The codes themselves have developed as well, making them far more robust. They can be scanned and recognized from a security perspective even if there is an imperfection, such as a smudge or if part of the code is covered. Because of this, brands can insert their own logos into the QR code without compromising its functionality. This leads to increased brand awareness and aids in building trust among consumers. 

In fact, businesses can do more than add their logo to a QR code - you can now change the colors and shapes, too, changing these codes from static boxes to dynamic codes. With the increased usage of these codes, many businesses are hopping on the bandwagon if they hadn't already. It provides you with a cost-effective and simple way to provide value to your customers. Free trials are available when you create a QR code, which expires upon the trial ending, though once you have bought the code, it will never expire, and the information linked to it can be updated as need be. 

A Contact-Free Necessity

Okay, so we've mentioned that there is a multitude of ways a business can use a QR code - here are some prime examples:

  • Advertising: Link a discount or digital marketing campaign to the code so that consumers can engage further with an advert and make their way to the next stage in the sales process. 
  • Connections: Let consumers log in to free wifi simply without a password by scanning a QR code.
  • More information: You can provide links with more information on just about anything - for instance, restaurants can use it to share menus, and museums can share more about artists and exhibitions.
  • Contacts: You can link to a subscription page, your social media accounts, or app for easy signups, follows, and downloads. 
  •  E-payments: For quick checkouts and contactless payments, QR codes are handy. Many banks have this facility within their apps, which promotes convenience, instantaneity and encourages repeat purchases. 
  • Safe Entry: In countries such as Singapore, QR scanning is being used to instantly share personal details for entry or checking into buildings, shops, restaurants, and hotels. QR codes also make it easy for contactless deliveries and pickups to occur. 
  • Healthcare: Some hospitals have included QR codes onto patient wristbands which contain all of the pertinent details related to medication, allergies, and checkouts. 
  • Helpful links: Share locations, lead forms, contact numbers, and email addresses with your customers via a QR code. It can also encourage easy reviews to be sent and provide the consumer with a calendar reminder. 
  • Experiential shopping: QR codes can open the door to a world of augmented reality. You can let your customer scan the code to try out a product or to experiment with customizations. 
  • Traditional marketing: Boost your traditional marketing by adding a QR code. This way, you can draw data on the kind of engagements received, whether it's on a billboard or included on screen.

The Evolution of the QR Code

QR codes had grown exponentially since their invention 20 years ago. With more and more businesses using these to provide helpful information to their customers, your business should consider ways it can add value to its offering as well. They are certainly not a fad and continue to be adopted by many industries, providing the benefit of contactless delivery in a world where that is not only desired but in many cases required as well.