Survey: 83 Percent Of Young Shoppers Can’t Handle QR Codes

Written by Evan Schuman
August 17th, 2011

Given the current retail fascination with QR codes—with recent trials at Tesco on subway walls, Macy’s on products, American Express on beer cans and eBay on practically everything—it stands to reason those little boxed lines are doing rather well.

A recent credible survey, however, found that not only are most younger consumers oblivious to what QR codes are, but the many who do know what they are can’t get them to function. In short, 83 percent of the 1,300 14- to 24-year-olds surveyed couldn’t access a QR code regardless of how good the offer was. Looks like some people skipped an important step in product rollout.

That news is pretty bad, given the strong mobile interest—or general high-tech and experimentation comfort level—of that demographic. If they’re confused or apathetic, the numbers won’t likely get better as surveys examine consumers in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. This particular survey was conducted between May 20 and May 30 by Youth Pulse (a.k.a., YPulse), which tracks marketing trends among the 14- to-24-year-old segment.

The survey breakdowns also hold little optimism. Some 64 percent said they had no idea what a QR code was, even when shown a picture of it. That picture part negates the possibility that they knew what QR codes were and had to use them but simply didn’t recognize the name.

On top of that 64 percent who had no idea about QR codes, 6 percent “have seen them but can’t figure out how to use them” and another 13 percent “haven’t used them, but say they could figure out how to use them if they wanted to.” That’s a total of 83 percent. As for the remaining 17 percent, 4 percent have used a QR code once, 6 percent have used one two to three times and 7 percent have used it four or more times.

“I think the confusion for those who can’t figure out how to use them is that they don’t realize they need an app to read the code and, even if they do, they may not know the images are called QR codes in order to search for a QR code reader app,” said Melanie Shreffler, the Editor-in-Chief for Ypulse. “When I first learned of QR codes a few years ago, a friend was trying to tell me what they are, and she said you just need to snap a picture of the image with your phone and voila. I asked how my phone’s camera would know what to do with that weird image. She thought for a minute and said ‘I have no idea, but somehow it must.’ I tried it and obviously it didn’t work. Eventually I went online and did a little research about how to use QR codes. I think that same scenario is probably happening for other users who are just learning about QR codes.”

Shreffler’s speculation is frighteningly likely. The problem here is best illustrated by the Macy’s experiment, where almost no signage and even less training of store associates pretty much left customers to figure it out on their own.

Much of the work needs to be done by marketing, with customer and store associate education and then lots of signage to remind people of the process. Industry pressure can encourage phones to ship with QR software already installed. If we’re lucky, it could even be set to auto-launch when it sees the proper image.

Until that happens, no one should be surprised when QR experiments deliver disappointing results.


6 Comments | Read Survey: 83 Percent Of Young Shoppers Can’t Handle QR Codes

  1. Says:

    QR Codes clearly have yet to catch on among consumers in the U.S. and the UK. They are already very popular in Japan and South Korea, but in the west we are still very much on the learning curve. Hearing that a company would introduce the codes without giving its workers any training is surprising. We all risk giving this technology a bad name by making it look difficult and not accessible. It is crucial that we educate consumers about QR Codes if they are to make the desired impact in sales and marketing.

  2. Jon Cameron Says:

    I think it is important to put that number in prospective.

    When you begin a survey with a group starting at 14, the first question is how active are teenagers with cell phones?

    Popular culture would tell us they are obsessed. A 2010 Pew research calls that into question. Despite that more than 75 of teens “own” a cell phone:

    38 of teens actually call someone daily
    24 text someone daily
    25 contact friends through a social network, daily

    The kicker:
    11 email someone daily

    So having the attention span to download an app and scan a barcode? Maybe just having permission to do so is the issue.

  3. smart poster Says:

    If we all left it to’Catch on’ we are going to wait another 5 years and by then NFC will be prevalent. Educate the consumers and marketing about what value they can provide and how to use them effectively.

  4. ed Says:

    The problem was a legal one here in the US. I do not remember the name of the company that patented the use of QR codes and was struck down but this is the reason why QR codes did not take off or embedded in mobile phones to prevent a frivolous patent lawsuit. The issue I find that no one explained how to use QR code or the benefits. It’s that simple. Once someone explain the benefits and how to use it, then it will kick off.

  5. Dean48 Says:

    Is it any wonder there is confusion? The article uses both the name “QR” and “CR.” Which is it? Then to baffle the reader more, a photo of a traditional bar code accompanies the article!

  6. Evan Schuman Says:

    Editor’s Note: Dean is quite correct on both counts. The typos–which got past the writer, a copy editor, a content editor and a spellcheck–were immediately fixed. The image is a little more pragmatic. Simply put, our Image Library didn’t have any QR Code images. (It can’t have everything.) We have now acquired some QR Code images and they will be integrated into our Image Library within a day or so. After that, QR Code stories will have QR Code images. Our apologies. We should have added QR Codes in some time ago.


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