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Cracking the Code: The Pros and Cons of QR Codes

Rachelle Gordon
Rachelle Gordon

QR codes have many benefits, but before deciding if they are right for your business, understand their disadvantages as well.

You've probably seen those square black/white codes, known as quick response (QR) codes, on signs, mobile apps, and even next to price tags on the shelves at larger retailers. The codes are a quick way to get information to your customers. While the 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.

What are QR Codes?

A quick response code is a scannable image similar to the barcode on the items you purchase every day. These unique pixelated icons contain varying types of data and may link to websites, apps, digital business cards or mobile coupons. They're an inexpensive and quick way to invite engagement or share information.

QR code use had been steadily increasing over the last decade as dependence on mobile devices grew. However, the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted QR codes into everyday life as restaurants, bars, and other service providers shifted to contactless methods of communication.

Bottom LineBottom Line: QR codes are designed to provide some type of information and encourage interaction.

How are QR codes used?

QR codes are designed to give users information quickly and easily. They can be scanned with the user's mobile phone, either through the built-in camera or a QR scanning app. They are intended to drive engagement and interaction with potential customers.

Easy navigation

One way they are commonly used is to bring a user to the business's website or a landing page. This is easier than typing in a URL and navigating a website. It's a great way to bring users to a sign-up page or a specific product. Using a unique URL for the QR code will allow you to see how effective it is.


They can also be used for communication. Instead of sending emails or texts at set times, scanning the code will result in the communication being sent. They can be provided in product packaging to provide special offers, access to warranty information, or user guides. They can also be used to contact customer service.

Did you know?Did you know? An estimated 37% of American adults engaged with a QR code in 2019. That’s more than 121 million people.

Mobile apps

Downloading apps is another popular use for QR codes, with Instagram and Angry Birds using them. Instead of searching the App Store, scanning the code will start the download. Spotify has used QR codes to allow users to share songs easily, and Snapchat has provided them to allow people to connect easily. Utilizing QR codes as part of a mobile device marketing strategy is a simple way to increase engagement.

Discounts and promotions

Discounts and promotions are the most popular and well-known uses for QR codes. One of the simplest ways to do this is to provide QR codes that act as coupons in print advertisements. They can also be showcased on TV ads, encouraging viewers to hold their phones directly to their screens to engage.

Online reviews

QR codes are also an easy way to bring positive online reviews into in-store shopping. According to Trustpilot, 89% of customers read reviews before making a purchase online. Allowing customers to easily check the reviews for an item in-store can encourage them to purchase the item instead of going home to research and consider it first. This can also be used to provide information about the product to help with purchasing decisions.

Pros and cons of QR codes

As with any form of marketing, there are both pros and cons to using QR codes.

Pros of QR codes
  • Cheap way to advertise
  • Easy way to track audience engagement
  • Seamless integration with mobile devices
Cons of QR codes
  • May confuse some customers
  • Addition of landing pages may be unnecessary for some businesses
  • Other modes of communication may be more beneficial

Pros of QR codes 

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. This allows brands to keep their content fresh without having to constantly update their codes, ensuring any previous marketing also remains relevant.

You can track audience response with ease.

Keeping up with campaign analytics is crucial for any digital marketing strategy. 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).

They're conducive to smartphones.

The average American spends about five hours a day on their smartphones, and just 5% 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's name.

Some added benefits of QR codes to take into consideration with your marketing objectives include:

  • Easily generated
  • Can be custom sized to fit promotional items
  • A cost-effective way to segment your audience
  • Provide insight into audience interest over multiple campaigns

Cons of QR codes

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.

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.

Image Credit: Zephyr18 / Getty Images
Rachelle Gordon
Rachelle Gordon Contributing Writer
Rachelle Gordon is a Minneapolis-based content writer who has written extensively on topics such as finance, marketing, cannabis, sustainability and tech. Her work has appeared in Benzinga, SlickDeals, and High Times. Prior to her career in journalism, Rachelle was an educator and has a passion for sharing knowledge. She enjoys helping businesses maximize efficiency while staying true to their core values.