Discover more from UXcalibur
The QR Code Experience
What took so long?
In 1994, a Japanese engineer named Masahiro Hara was looking for a way to keep track of automotive parts while working for global automotive components manufacturer, Denso Wave. His solution was a square box that was scanned, similar to barcodes of the time, but with the ability to store much more information. This instance three decades ago was the beginning of the QR code — a product that seems relatively new, but seems to have only taken off during and after the Covid Pandemic. According to Juniper Research, QR code payments worldwide are estimated to surpass $3 trillion by 2025, up by $2.4 trillion in 2022. So what happened? What took so long? Why is it only now that we see them everywhere?
I spent time in Melbourne, Australia in late 2022.. Here, I happened upon a laundry locker service for the first time in my life. For those who have never used this sort of service, imagine an empty room with lockers. You take whatever clothes you need to be dry cleaned and put them into a locker, close the door and enter a code. From there, people behind the scenes will eventually pick up your clothes and clean them, all without ever seeing your face. In one rare instance, I was actually lucky enough to meet the owner of the laundry locker, and we spent a good 10 minutes talking about the concept, which I found so interesting. I had initially assumed this was a product of Covid, but I was wrong. The laundry locker in Melbourne was pre-Pandemic, while others around the globe existed in places like San Francisco and London.
While my assumption was wrong, one thing the owner did confirm is that Covid had increased business, even if people weren’t needing the service as much as they would during normal times. Now, even in a post-Pandemic world, the locker has retained the popularity that it grew in 2020 and 2021.
I am intrigued by how times affect product usage. This laundry locker, like the QR code, are just two examples. These products needed specific situations to increase usage. For example, when the world was concerned about touching things like dirty menus, the QR code was plugged in as the product of choice in restaurants. At first, this may have been unusual for users who had never used a QR code. Eventually, it became second nature, becoming an efficient way not only to view menus, but also to to pay for things and scan tickets.
As of 2022, 85% of adults in the US own a smartphone, so in theory, this made sense. The Pandemic was the catalyst that took the QR code from a niche product to something widespread.
Why do QR codes present such a good user experience? As mentioned, smartphone usage increased drastically over the past decade. This is not only the case in the US, South Korea, or Japan, three areas that adopted QR codes earlier, but also the case for places like Southeast Asia, where the super app is king. In places like restaurants, QR codes can be much more creative, leading digital menus to include sign-ups for newsletters and social media integration. They’re also much cheaper. In other industries like consumer goods, customers are able to learn more about what their new packaging includes.
However, new technology will come with pitfalls once it reaches the masses. QR codes are no different, with Ivanti Research reporting that just 37% of respondents are aware that a code can download an application. This lack of knowledge presents a problem, as things downloaded from a QR code may not necessarily be safe. In the same report, just 22% were aware that a QR code can give away physical location. And while areas like the restaurant industry are thriving using digital menus, it changes the overall experience of dining out.
The product that has changed is not the menu, but the restaurant experience as a whole. The menu is just one component of this, while the full experience of being out dining, as opposed to ordering in, is the complete product that has had an overhaul due to the QR code. Will it still be considered rude to have a smartphone on the table at a restaurant when the whole process of ordering will require it? What about the fact that, in the US, the majority of a waiter or waitress’ salary comes from tips? Is this something that will eventually need an overhaul, and will this mean a decline in service, or perhaps better overall wages?
Products evolve experiences, just as well as experiences evolve products. Consider QR codes that give you access to a place’s Wi-Fi. This sounds ideal, but then consider who the specific user who would need Wi-Fi is. If this user doesn’t have Internet in the first place, what good is a QR code that gives them the possibility of an Internet connection? Sounds backwards, huh?
Another consideration is security. Just 49% of respondents in the Ivanti research said that they either don’t have or don’t know how much security was installed on their mobile device. A hurdle, yes, but one that will be an important factor in continuing usage. The kinks will need to be ironed out, of course, but the easy experience of using a QR code in most instances implies that these codes will have a long lasting impact. Consider the laundry locker story from before. The Pandemic was the catalyst that created more familiarity with the service, leading to growth, even in more normal times. Timing in the market will always affect how well products will be accepted by society. The QR code is proof.
Thanks for reading UXcalibur! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.