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I want to let people install a mobile app after visiting a physical shop. My first go-to was a QR code, but I was wondering if people actually use them. Should I give a second option? What are your thoughts on this?

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    Is this only limited to app installation or also for utility within the app itself? For example, I have an IP camera that pairs in an app and the QR code on the camera itself makes for a great UX since I just scan the code from the app. If your question, is only about app discoverability, that answer might not be good for this question. – zero298 Jul 6 at 0:35
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    Yes, you definitely should always make the encoded information (e.g. the app URL) available in human-readable form as well. QR-code only is an antipattern that discriminates those who don't have a QR reader at hand. – Bergi Jul 6 at 15:25
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    What's your intended location? The answer is probably very location dependent. Belgium? Big city? Small city? Village in the middle of nowhere? Is wi-fi an option in the street of the shop? – Mast Jul 7 at 17:14
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    Why has the title been edited? The new title is more formally grammatically correct; but the old one was a perfectly good informal use of language, and much more colourful. Sacrificing colour for formality seems a shame. – PLL Jul 8 at 12:45
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TL;DR: Not that popular currently but might become so again in the future. In your case I'd look for an additional option if possible.


Edit: Because of RonJohn's comment and the many people who agreed, I decided to remake the charts in "true" form, so the numbers look less manipulative.


Scanova.io cites a few surveys across the years and claims it's on the rise:

In 2014, Adobe Systems conducted a study on QR Code usage over a period of three months. The study covered four countries—Germany, France, UK, and the US.

Official study chart:

Chart remade in Excel:
Chart showing use of QR codes in percentages per country

According to a recent survey by Statistia, in the US alone, an estimated 11 Million households will scan a QR Code in 2020. This is an increase from an estimated 9.76 Million scans in 2018.

Official study chart:

Chart remade in Excel:
Chart showing use of QR codes in millions of households in the US

They also make a good point how it's widely used in a few big Asian countries, especially China:

WeChat—which is predominantly used in China—made the nation obsessed with QR Codes in the last few years. The Chinese scan QR Codes to make payments, get information, authenticate themselves, avail offers, and for practically every other use case.


Personally, I'm not too convinced. I barely ever see QR codes being used (living in a western EU country), not by people I know and also not in public.

This mediag.com article makes a good point about it:

A lot of people hear “QR code” and think, “2011 called, and they want their marketing tactic back.” However, they’re starting to plateau, and even make a comeback since their huge dip in popularity in 2014-2016.

So, seems like they're not very popular currently but might become so again in the future? Hard to tell. But for your use case this means that it wouldn't be a bad idea to have an alternative to it (since not everyone might have a QR code scanner app installed).


Real Life Example

Interestingly enough, after saying how I never see them here, I just received this in my mail today :)

enter image description here

This is a really good example, as you can clearly see how two options are given. As Bergi said in his comment under the question, the QR-link should be provided in human-readable form as well.

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    A very big point is the practical application they have/are used in in China. A fun anecdotal example is a streamer that showed one of the fancy Chinese vending machines on stream and a member of their chat paid for their item, which is something really only possible through QR codes because of their incredible fault tolerance – Ieuan Jul 5 at 16:53
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    Those two graphs are great examples of lying with graphs. – RonJohn Jul 5 at 23:03
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    Do people not perceive a security risk with QR codes? Basically, the users have to trust that a QR code is legit and isn't going to send them to a malicious website, and they have no idea where it's sending them before they scan it. – shoover Jul 5 at 23:30
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    @shoover: that's not a security risk with QR codes itself. It doesn't matter if you're visiting a site printed on regular text URL or QR, people need to exercise their trust-risk judgements on the site they are visiting based on where they got the address from. – Lie Ryan Jul 6 at 4:59
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    @LieRyan If I visit a regular text URL, I can (1) verify it's https rather than http, (2) verify the domain (as long as there 's no i18n/unicode confusables spoofing). A QR code is as unsafe as a URL shortener. – gerrit Jul 6 at 17:49
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In the US and Western Europe it's not used much. The stats are actually quite dismal. I see very few applications generating interest in QR codes. Skiing and hiking trails where one doesn't need to take off ones gloves is a niche-market exception.

On the other hand QR codes are really big in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea so if your market has a lot of East-Asian customers, especially East-Asian tourists, then I would include QR codes in all promotional material.

For example I put a QR code on my business card. It links to my website. I think of it as a stamp - analogous to stamps used with wax back in the day to authenticate ones signature; or like the red-ink stamps used in China, Japan, Korea.

In the US people look at my card and they go - "hey, looks good." It's perceived more like artwork, as an icon. I've given out 100s of cards at Meetups and am unaware of anyone going to my site via the card.

However, when I was in China the perception was much different. A large percentage of people took out their phones - on the spot - and scanned the QR code. I was so glad that I had updated my site before travelling.

The perception, the awareness, the comfort level regarding QR codes is far different in other countries and other cultures.

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    "and am unaware of anyone going to my site via the card" - does that say a lot about QR code usage as such? IMHO, the default content of a QR code on a business card is a VCARD entry, not a URL. I have scanned plenty of QR codes from business cards to add the respective data to my contacts, but had I ever encountered a website link instead of a VCARD in there, I don't think I would have opened it, as visiting a website is usually not my intended goal when scanning the QR code from a business card. – O. R. Mapper Jul 6 at 11:34
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    You raise an interesting point regarding the VCARD v URL. – Mayo Jul 8 at 13:05
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    in Vietnam QR codes are everywhere, just like in East Asian countries – phuclv Jul 8 at 16:32
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I've actually done a fair amount of work with QR codes in the past. It all depends on their implementation. If you simply slap a QR code on a poster - not so helpful. If it has a purpose and an incentive - people WILL scan them. They are widely popular in some countries. Basically - you've gotta give someone a reason to scan it.

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    Could you flesh this out a bit? What is enough of an incentive for people to scan the code? Is a QR code on a poster with a caption saying to scan it for more information "simply slap[ping] a QR code on a poster" or is it "a reason to scan it"? – David Richerby Jul 6 at 9:09
  • I guess it depends. I'd say a use case like you've suggested would be valuable, for instance, in real estate. If you were to scan a sign or one-pager in a window. From a marketing standpoint you could 'scan to win' (which would bring you to a sign up page to solicit subscribers). It's important to remember that QR codes are a mobile technology, so they should be implemented accordingly. Does that help? – annie2bananie Jul 9 at 18:28
  • Two examples I’ve seen where QR codes get used: (1) In Pokemon Go to become “friends”, one person brings up their code and the other scans it. (2) The local bus stops all have QR codes, scan one to find when the next buses will arrive. – John Hascall Jul 11 at 7:17
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Also - you can customize / brand your QR codes to make them more visually intriguing – so long as you build in around 30% error correction. Here's a couple of examples one some I did (way back in the day).

enter image description here

enter image description here

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    Not sure I'd ever recommend deliberately corrupting QR codes, but those really are done attractively! – A C Jul 5 at 19:15
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    These may look attractive, but I'll bet most people won't recognize that this is a QR code if they just see it on the street without any prompting even if they know what QR code is. – Lie Ryan Jul 6 at 5:00
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    This doesn't seem to answer the question of whether people use QR codes or not, although creating a more attractive or engaging design might help improve uptake. – Michael Lai Jul 7 at 23:28
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    While these certainly look interesting, actually scanning these would be the last thing I'd try. Exception might be the one in the top-right, which is the only one that looks like a well-formed code, but even then I might do so out of curiosity whilst bored, rather than actually trying to find some contact information / app / etc. Perhaps good for some viral marketing, but when usability is concerned, I feel this is a miss. – Shaamaan Jul 8 at 9:58
  • For usability, maybe not? but in term of engagement, I think these are a win - the viewer gets to feel good about spotting the qr code, if nothing else. It engages their brain, which then means that they are engaging with the ad. – Baldrickk Jul 8 at 13:51
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You should have a QR code, whether on screen or paper. It is important to note that both Android and iOS come with default QR readers. QR code is the easiest way to pass a URL. Unless your application is on the App Store, it will be difficult to get to the application download page without a QR code.

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    In my (limited) experience, over a number of years and Android devices, I haven't come across a default QR reader. – Dan Getz Jul 6 at 18:24
  • medium.com/turunen/… – Ren Jul 6 at 20:27
  • @DanGetz Google Lens is getting integrated to various Android devices, and it can handle QR codes. – muru Jul 8 at 4:21
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    among devices that I've used, only some Moto G phones have built-in QR code scanner. But I don't care about whether it's installed by default or not because one of the first apps that I install in a new phone is always a QR code scanner. QR code is so common that it's hard to get by without a scanner – phuclv Jul 8 at 16:37
  • Nevertheless the bulk of the population don't know this, I doubt they have the reflex to open Google Lens to scan QR codes – Hendrik Jul 10 at 6:27
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Just yesterday I used a new Amazon feature where I bring an unpackaged item to be returned to the UPS Store, show them a QR code, and be on my merry way. It was incredible.

I'm seeing more and more QR codes finally make their way into the consumer space. I would say it's a pattern that is gaining popularity and that more "civilian" users will continue to become comfortaBLE WITH.

  • As long as the user doesn't scan the QR code themselves, but just hands it over to another party, I'm not convinced this allows for any statement about QR codes. After all, Amazon could just as well give you a code number or some other form of visual encoding, all else equal - the consumer doesn't have to be aware or think about what a QR code is or how to use it. They are just given something, really anything, by Amazon that they have to show at the UPS Store. – O. R. Mapper Jul 9 at 0:17
  • That's a very good point. The cases where QR codes are useful are when you receive the code and scan it somewhere like a movie theater, UPS Store, or Whole Foods. – Jason Carlin Jul 10 at 1:04
  • Not sure whether I got you right there - IMHO, the cases where QR codes are useful to users are when you receive the code and scan it with your device to save the trouble of typing something long (URL, wifi password, etc.). The cases you listed can make use of QR codes, but could just as well use something else without changing the effort from the user's perspective. – O. R. Mapper Jul 10 at 10:41
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I think you should provide multiple options that people are likely to have, and let them choose. That might include:

  • URL (if it's dead easy to remember/type)
  • App name (so they can search for it in an app store)
  • QR code
  • Twitter handle for the app or your shop (then a link in your bio)

Aim for flexibility without too many options - three is probably enough. Maybe even get some business cards printed with the same info on so they can take it with them for later, if they don't want to mess around with their phones right there.

Regarding usage, I don't see them used day to day. However, whenever I make a poster for a conference I always put one on that links to a PDF of it. Seems to be well appreciated and it's getting more common.

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Definitely I would go with QR Code. But I will also show them icon and name of the app; and a website. On website you could have a link for ios/android app. The people who use QR code will find it painless to scan and reach the intended app whereas its a hassle to go to website, or app store to install app, too many taps. Showing them icon boosts the user(who use qr code) confidence that they landed on right place at the same time give other people option to find your app.

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OH! I should also note that by adding a QR code to your print material, you can actually build in metrics you wouldn't otherwise have. Since it uses a URL you can track all sorts of information (user location, device, number of scans, user pathways - all the usual). Another important reason why you want to put practices in place that will incentive your audience to actually scan.

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