Sandra Thares didn’t really know what a Quick Response code was when her office assistant suggested using one to market the O’Haire Motor Inn, Clark and Louie’s restaurant and the Sip n’ Dip Lounge.
The business had recently done an expensive upgrade to its website however, and Thares wanted to use whatever means possible to drive traffic to it.
smartphone users can use their camera phone to scan the code, which prompts the device to pull up the O’Haire Motor Inn website.
“Now that we are using one, I notice them in catalogs and other places,” said Thares.
Originally used for inventory tracking in the automotive industry, the use of two-dimensional barcodes is exploding in print media and other areas, said Mike Wehrs, the president and chief executive officer of Scanbuy, the parent company of Scan Life, a leader in the industry. The QR code is one of the most popular types of mobile barcodes, which are capable of storing thousands of alphanumeric characters, compared with the more common linear barcodes that can store up to 20 digits.
“In 2010 between January and December, our company alone saw a 1,600 percent increase in the number of scans that went through our system,” Wehrs said. “This year between January and July, we doubled the number of scans going through our system again.”
The growth trend of QR codes started about 18 months ago, the same time smartphone purchases increased and data plans for those phones were introduced at rates that average cellphone users were willing to pay, said Wehrs.
Worldwide, one billion people have phones with cameras that are capable of reading QR codes. Half the smartphone users in the United States have QR code applications on their devices.
In June, 14 million mobile users in the U.S., about 6.2 percent of the total mobile audience, scanned a QR code on their mobile device, according to a study by comScore, Inc. The study found that a mobile user that scanned a QR code was more likely to be male (60.5 percent of the code scanning audience), skew toward the ages of 18-34 (53.4 percent) and have a household income of $100,000 or above (36.1 percent). The study also analyzed the source and location of QR scanning, finding that users are more likely to scan codes found in newspapers, magazines and on product packaging and do so while at home or in a store.
Big R started using a QR code three months ago and has tested the technology in a couple of different campaigns.
“We used it in Spokane where we were a sponsor for a fair barn,” said Alfonso Martinez of the Big R marketing division. “The code took you to a website that included the history of the barn and offered a product discount.”
Since incorporating QR codes in print pieces, Martinez said he’s learned that it’s important to have a website that formats for viewing on mobile devices.
“If you don’t it’s harder for people to read and the offer loses its mission,” he said. “We are in the process of working on a mobile website version now.”
Both Big R and O’Haire Manor used free sites to create their QR codes.
MSU-Great Falls College of Technology subscribed to Scan Life and can get up to 10 QR codes. One is being used to market the Fall 2011 Outreach workshops and courses for the community and another is in use on campus to direct students to the online academic calendar.
“I did some research and for dependability and sustainability, we decided to purchase our QR codes,” said Pam Parsons, director of communications for MSU-Great Falls.
Their subscription also allows the school to track usage, unique users and the type of devices doing the scans, such as iPhones or Andriods.
“I don’t think we’ve even begun to tap into the potential, but we wanted to get a better understanding of the technology before using it more widely,” Parsons said.
That potential is something Scanbuy is working to explain to a wider audience.
“There is an entire world of things you can do with a QR code,” Wehrs said. “We are very proud of a product we call The Menu.”
That’s what Home Depot used in an insert that was in the Great Falls Tribune Wednesday. A smartphone user could scan the QR code, then select to call a kitchen designer, go to the Home Depot website or watch a video of Martha Stewart describing products.
“It blends video and text and lets the end user choose what they want,” said Wehrs.
But advanced QR code technology isn’t exclusive or affordable for only large companies, he said.
“For small Mom and Pop businesses, there are entry points of subscription packages that start at $200 and go up from there,” he said.
Uses are endless. For example, a business can decide to give away prizes to QR code scanners.
“You can write rules for the promotion code, such as award five $10 gift certificates that day,” Wehrs said. “It doesn’t take months of planning.”
That can also be a tool for inventory control, he said.
“Imagine if you are a small business owner and find that you have too much soda on hand,” he said.
The business can offer QR code scanners a deal that day, say if you buy three cases of soft drinks, you get one free.
Scan Life is currently revamping its own website to target small and medium businesses.
“It’s a very big, underserved market in this industry right now,” Wehrs said.
At Big R, Martinez imagines that QR codes can be used to allow customers to go directly to information about products such as big equipment.
“In general, farmers and ranchers are pretty technology savvy, they always have been, using it to follow markets, stay current on the weather,” he said. “We are seeing more and more of our customer base using smartphones. I can see QR codes being used to get more information to our customers about the products we carry.”