Simple sells, QR codes don't

Scanning a QR code on a Barbie setPA

The QR code is one of the many pieces of tech gubbins being hailed as opening up a wonderful new wave of consumer opportunity. In case you're wondering, they are the blotchy squares that are appearing in various places. But is the thinking behind them flawed?
Earlier this month we carried a story on how research had revealed most consumers hadn't got a clue what QR codes were or how to use them. Proponents see them as a bridge between online and offline environments, but one industry figure reckons the 'bridge' idea is structurally flawed.

Joe Gillespie says that, far from being a bridge, QR codes could help to build a wall between products and consumers. His comments need to considered in the light of the fact that his company, Zoove, promotes an alternative to QR codes, but what he says is nonetheless worth noting.

He identifies five key reasons why the codes may be "keeping many brands from reaching their audience effectively".

  • The codes can only be read by smartphones, and not everyone has a smartphone.
  • There is no uniform code or code reader, making it difficult and confusing for consumers to use them.
  • They work on some media, such as TV screens, but not on others, such as roadside billboards and radio. This lack of what's called 'cross-media functionality' is a severe limitation.
  • There's a complex eight-step process involved in using the codes.
  • The high failure rate this leads to puts consumers off the whole process.

What all this highlights is the potential of a growing divide between a tech-savvy, affluent and knowledgeable consumer base and the rest. We're not talking small numbers here – it's predicted that 2.7bn people will be on the internet by 2015, and most of them will access the net via mobile device.

But as major brands focus their efforts on ever more slick and technical ways to part us from our money and provide added value, what happens to those who don't have access to the technology that opens up these new opportunities? And is there a market niche in keeping it simple?
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