Packaging Innovation
qr codes on packaging
December 23, 2013

The death of the QR code on packaging

Question: ‘How many times have you scanned a QR code during the last 30 days?’ The probable answer: ‘Not even once’. Is it still useful then to give the black and white squares room on retail packaging?

QR codes were first introduced in Japan nearly 20 years ago. They took quite a lot of time before the packaging industry adopted them but when they finally did – some five years ago – QR codes suddenly popped up everywhere. In magazines, on billboards, on all kinds of packaging, even on the sides of lorries, trucks and cars! But who scans all those codes? As it turns out, nearly no one! In fact, only 19 percent of US smartphone users have scanned a QR code in some form.

Poorly placed QR code on packaging

qr codes on packagingThe reason QR codes are failing is two-fold. Firstly, the codes on packaging rarely add true value for the consumer. Although some QR codes had some brilliant and successful applications, most of them or just bland, uninspired links to web pages consumers simply don’t care about.

Secondly, the codes are hardly user-friendly. A consumer scanning shelves in the local supermarket first has to grab a smartphone, open (and update?) the QR reader app and scan the code. Only then are you directed to a web page that will hopefully provide additional information concerning the product at hand.

A QR code takes up too much time to read

The problem is that consumers rarely have the time to go over this process, thus leaving the QR codes for what it is. Admittedly, most of the time packaging designers aren’t making things easy for consumers either, placing the QR codes in difficult to reach places. Who’s going to scan while driving past a billboard on the motorway anyway?

Augmented reality to replace QR code on packaging?

So what’s next? Will QR codes be dropped from packaging design altogether? Probably not for a little while, yet invisible ink and augmented reality apps seem to be taking over the packaging industry. With these apps, all you have to do is go over a product with your smartphone and get enhanced features immediately. If and when these apps will be successful remains to be seen.