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Cracking the Code: The Pros and Cons of QR Codes

By Kristen Gramigna, writer
Jun 18, 2015
Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images
> Marketing

You’ve probably seen those square black/white codes, known as quick response (QR) codes, on signs and even next to price tags on the shelves at larger retailers.

While the same strategy can be cost effective for small businesses, it’s important to understand the pros, cons and what types of small businesses QR codes are best suited to support before you make a decision.

Related Article: The SMB Guide to Mobile Marketing

The Pros

They can keep your printed marketing costs low

Space comes with a price when you invest in printed marketing materials like brochures, catalogs, ads and signage. QR codes are a simple means to direct an audience to more information about a product, service or promotion, while ensuring you don’t waste valuable print space on unnecessary details.

Because the QR code directs the user to an online promotion, you can update images, pricing and product details—and with very little creative investment. 

You can track audience response with ease

You can assign and track any number of QR codes based on your specific objectives (and there are plenty of online tools that allow you to do so for free).

Some QR code benefits to take into consideration with your marketing objectives:

  • easily generated
  • custom size to fit promotional items
  • cost-effective way to segment your audience
  • able to learn more about audience interest over multiple campaigns
  • easy to measure the ROI of your marketing presence that may span various locations, events and venues.

Paying Bill With QR Code

They’re conducive to smartphones

Internet Retailer reports that Americans now spend about five hours a day on their smartphones—and just five percent of that time is spent talking on the phone. QR codes are highly conducive to mobile users, who have become accustomed to using their smartphones for instant gratification.

By snapping an image of a QR code using their mobile device, consumers can quickly find out more about your business, product or service, without making the extra effort to connect on social media, or even, remember your business name.

Related Article: The 7 Steps To A Results-Driven Mobile Marketing Strategy

Man Annoyed With Phone

The Cons 

They may not provide the simplest customer experience

QR codes were originally designed as a shortcut: The customer snaps a photo of the QR code with a mobile device, which theoretically, takes him/her directly to relevant and more detailed information. However, QR codes require a hurdle that businesses must ensure they’ve accounted for, before they’ll provide an inherent benefit.

For example, the user must already download the necessary app to support the reading of the code. Now that there are so many different types of mobile devices supported on different platforms including Android, Microsoft and Apple, it can be tough for business owners to predict which apps the customer has likely downloaded, to ensure the QR code works easily.  

Business owners need to include a reason behind the QR code

QR codes are supposed to reward users beyond what they can find on social media or online—which may involve an additional marketing investment. If you don’t have the time or budget to develop microsites and promotions that are geared specifically to your QR audience, you may frustrate them. 

Related Article: Post Like a Pro: Social Media Tips for Every Small Business

Two-way communication may be more beneficial

As social media mobile technology has evolved, there may be simpler methods (for business owners and customers) to communicate the same kind of information a QR code will direct to. This could be by a short URL, native apps or social media hashtags. Additionally, two-way communication mediums (like social media) carry the extra benefit of customer connection and potentially, more exposure through social sharing. 

Though QR codes once provided a means to say more with less, mobile technology has advanced to the extent that the value of this tactic isn’t as inherent as it once was. While QR codes still have a place in the world of small-business marketing, weigh the tactic against other cost-effective methods before assuming that a QR code will deliver the optimal outcome.

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Kristen Gramigna
Kristen Gramigna
See Kristen Gramigna's Profile
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a provider of ecommerce payment processing. She brings more than 20 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.
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