They look like a Rorsach blot meets a UPC code in some twisted universe, but the QR code has had a clunky existence since its inception in 1994 as a way to track auto parts as they moved through the assembly process. Now they are on the rise again. The COVID-19 pandemic played a big part in the QR code’s resurgence. Not to mention that the QR code can store up to 350 times more information than the traditional barcode.
Although the QR code was invented in 1994, it wasn’t until 2010 that it was introduced to the mainstream achieving a life in perpetuity on smartphones. It wasn’t until 2011 that it started gaining popularity, and by 2013 nearly every conference, convention, trade show and festival used the QR code for its check in process. You needed a QR code reader on your smartphone, and it was clunky. The QR code at that time was generally thought of as a passing trend, and it fell out of favor relegated to back rooms and basements, dumpsters and tag sales – a passing fad, like 8 track tapes and Betamax.
Now a decade later, just like the vinyl record noted for its sonic warmth, the QR code is back and as popular and as easy to use as ever. You can thank the COVID-19 pandemic for that. The QR code is a way to store and process information without the need for human contact, and due to the restrictions during the pandemic, the code was the perfect cure for the necessity of social distancing.
When stay-at-home orders went into effect in March of 2020, the QR code saw a 47% rise in usage. Scanning the code became much easier on your smartphone. Then, after some time, the whole process became touchless. Restaurants used QR codes to replace menus. They were placed on displays or directly onto the tabletop. You could order off the QR code and then send it to the kitchen and pay for the order, all touchless, and all through your smartphone. Walk into any Starbucks or Dunkin, or any fast food joint for that matter and you can automate your whole experience via the “code.”
Concert tickets, train tickets, airline boarding passes or a ride on Jeff Bezos’ shuttle to space, it’s all done with the “code.”
If you’re shopping in a retail environment, the QR code can be used to look up product information on something you are interested in buying. Museums, movie theaters, banking, PayPal, Venmo,and the doctor’s office, the QR code is everywhere and has become a ubiquitous part of daily ife.
Usage is expected to continue to rise. The number of US consumers who use their smartphone to scan QR codes to make contactless payments and for a wide range of other uses such as scanning codes in print publications, on restaurant menus and in retail outlets will rise from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million by 2025.