Behind the Technology: QR Codes from A-Z

Gabriel Weisz

If you’d read that 2020 would be the year that QR codes made a massive comeback, you’d probably have thought it was a parody. Then last March, the technology that was thought to have faded out way back in 2002 was placed front and center thanks to COVID-19. 

Worldwide, businesses and industries scrambled to adapt to the new normal, where human interaction and contact were to be reduced to the bare minimum. Developing and implementing systems within an unknown and volatile landscape had many brands stumped. However, finding a viable, long-term solution to this complex problem wasn’t as difficult as we initially thought. 

It turns out that the humble QR code packs a lot more punch than we’d given it credit for. Once seen as a relic of the early digital age, it’s now the pandemic MVP, making life easier - and more profitable - for millions of people around the globe. 

In June 2011, 14 million Americans scanned a QR code. This decreased to just 9.76 million by 2018, but researchers estimated that total to surpass 11 million by the end of 2020. According to Juniper Research, by 2022, over 1 billion smartphones will access QR codes.

But have you ever wondered just how QR codes work? For something that’s become a permanent part of our daily lives, the general public knows little about the technology and potential behind them. 

QR Codes 101

QR (“quick response”) codes were first developed by Masahiro Hara for Japan’s auto industry in 1994. A type of matrix - two-dimensional - barcode, they contain information about the item to which they’re attached. Essentially, a QR code contains data that redirects to an application or website. 

The system gained traction due to its swift readability and broad storage capacity compared to standard barcodes. The code itself consists of black squares arranged on a grid against a white background; the image can be read by a scanning device - these days, this tends to be a smartphone camera. The code is processed using something known as Reed-Solomon error correction, which allows for the image to be interpreted. The data is extracted from patterns present along the grid, and voilá

These are just some of the applications for QR codes:

  • Marketing and advertising
  • Mobile payment
  • Restaurant ordering
  • Product labeling tracking
  • Transport, ticketing, and travel check-in
  • Personal data storage
  • Augmented reality and videogames
  • Multimedia content
  • Website logins

Not all QR Codes are created equal

Did you know that there are actually two types of QR codes? That’s right: there are static and dynamic QR codes, and one has clear advantages over the other.

Static QR codes have fixed-destination URLs. This means that the destination and/or data is stored directly within the code graphic, meaning that it cannot be modified. Static QR codes are much more limited and offer only the most basic of functionalities. 

Dynamic QR codes — like the ones used in our tech at Kontactless — have modifiable destination URLs, which are editable, customizable, and trackable. The data can be changed as often as necessary, even if marketing materials have already been printed. This not only saves costs, but it allows brands to make changes to campaigns or back-end systems as quickly as possible.

Another benefit of using a dynamic QR code means that businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, don’t need to use different codes throughout the day. For example, a table’s QR code that links to the breakfast menu can be updated automatically to display the lunch offering after a certain hour, saving both precious time and printing costs. 

By tracking the data, you can see how many times a code was scanned, what devices were used, and which locations were the most active. This makes a huge difference for marketing efforts and reaching target audiences with precision. 

Looking Ahead

At this point, we know that QR codes can get users to purchase products, download apps, and engage with customer service. They can also be used to increase post-purchase engagement by allowing customers to reorder a product, sign up for loyalty programs, subscribe to a brand’s newsletter, or leave valuable feedback.

Dynamic QR codes are versatile, easy to use and troubleshoot, fully customizable, and capable of storing large amounts of data. The fact that they don’t expire makes it easy to ramp up new business processes without complicated maintenance. By reducing the need to print large amounts of paper materials, they’re eco-friendly and minimize the use of high-contact surfaces, a bonus in the context of COVID-19. 

At Kontactless, we believe in using technology to makes our lives easier, not more complicated. Every day we harness the power of digital to drive revenue opportunities for our clients, and are confident that the hospitality industry will emerge on the other side of the pandemic stronger, savvier, and more streamlined than ever.

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