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Are QR Codes Failing?

Published: 26/10/2011
By: larry

I ran across this post the other day at and I have to admit that I was a little surprised because my impression has been that, while not taking over the marketing world by storm, QR codes are starting to be used more. I've been seeing more and more of them in Magazines especially in the last 6 months.

In the post Sean Cummings says:

The current use of QR codes in advertising is... I could finish that statement with "stupid," "useless," "uncreative," or "uninspiring." Surprisingly, that is not news to anyone at advertising agencies or brands. QR codes seem to be a last ditch effort; an ignored piece of "Hey, throw a QR code on there that leads to our website." But why bother? The general public seems largely oblivious to what they are used for, and why they are on all those ads. In my informal "on the street" survey of 300 people last month, I held up a sign with a QR code on it and the phrase: "Free gift if you can tell me what this is."

I was not asking them to decipher it, just tell me what it actually was. Here are the results:

  • 11 percent correctly answered QR code or quick response code
  • 29 percent responded with "Some barcode thingy"
  • Seven percent guessed some variant of "Those things you stare at that get 3D when you cross your eyes. What picture is it? I can't seem to get it"
  • The remaining 53 percent tried everything from a secret military code, Korean (uh really?), to an aerial street map of San Francisco
I like the idea of QR codes, but even though I see more of them all the time, I have to admit that it's now two years since my prediction that they were going to be an awesome feature for real estate. I have a app on my phone that will scan them but there aren't enough of them around in the right places that I use them every week or month. I'd rather scan a QR code than type in a URL and day but they are just not being used enough so I even see them every day. I only ever see them in Wired magazine and The New Yorker. There usage also depends on the masses using smart phones with scanning apps and as I think about it I'm the only one in my extended family of 15 or so people that even has a smart phone and knows what a QR code is.
Maybe Sean is right. Maybe they are just too geeky for the masses. What do you think? Is Sean on the right track or is he full of it?

26 comments on “Are QR Codes Failing?”

  1. They might be too geeky right now. If apple or Google with the android OS integrates QR scanning into the actual OS instead of having app makers do it. (Like Apple recently did with Twitter in iOS5) more people will realize what it is (in my honest opinion)
    For example at my sisters wedding I had made a short slide show and uploaded it to YouTube, as well as having it loop on a iPad at the reception.
    There was a QR code that linked to the YouTube video with simple instructions. Most people who had smart phones didn't even have a bar code scanner, thus they couldn't read the code.
    Until there's more "magic" than technology and things work seamlessly for the technologically impaired QR codes are just a bonus for the geeky crowd and can't be relied on for getting you message/info out.

  2. I just dumped my Blackberry for an android. I was going to add the QR code ap, but there it was, alphabetically on the top line "AT&T Code Scanner." What was nice was the quality of the ap. The one I loaded on the Blackberry required physically taking the picture, then letting it do it's thing, however, with this one it is totally seamless.

  3. I like the idea, and we have them on our flyers. However, I'm amazed at how poorly they are used. I saw an advertisement on the back page of a major magazine with a QR code. I was interested in the product, so I scanned it. It led to a pdf of the ad that I was looking at! Good grief. The other problem is linking to a site that is not mobile ready. The whole point is that these are used with smart phones. Link to a mobile formatted site!

  4. There are a couple of local Top Producer Real Estate Agents using QR Codes on their larger for sale signs with typed instructions (in smaller fonts) underneath the QR Code of something like, "Scan this code with your smart phone to take a look inside!" or for a flyer to your phone. While they're not in full force, those that take time to employ them and explain the benefit to a viewer do seem to achieve some benefit. If real estate search begins online and enough local search sites have QR Codes with explanations, it won't take long to catch on for these specific viewers. On a WordPress sidebar, it might not hurt to have a short 250x150 video explaining benefit and how to use, if the QR Code isn't in the prime real estate view of that site. Who knows, for lead gen, that might work too!

  5. As a real estate agent I now put QR codes on my For Sale signs. At first I pointed them at the house web site for the listing. But as Bill Ruppert said, most people who have the QR APP will use it on a smart phone and not a tablet. The house web sites have too much going on to really see and use well on a smart phone. So now I point the QR codes to the virtual tour or video. But I add a slide at the beginning (with big type) (or audio) that lets them know about the house web site. I have had buyers tell me that they did use my QR code for the listing and were glad that they did. I also put them on the back of my House Business cards, on flyers, and on display cards.

    I agree that most people do not know about QR or similar codes--but the trend is still UP. Two years ago I put a QR code on one of my house signs and a number of people (mostly agents) made very negative comments about it. They didn't know what it was and thought it was ugly. So I took it off the sign. But, in the last year I have had no negative comments and a few positive comments. Since it doesn't cost anything except a little time and a little space on a marketing piece it seems like it is worth it.

  6. Sometimes technology is good for one industry but not for another. Whether we actually use the technology or not, our clients like to know that we are at the cutting edge. QR codes do not cost us anything but do look great on a sign rider! My clients love them, but if I ask them how they are working for them - they say uh.... Its sort of like the texting, some agents really go all out for it and some just have it because its there and some have it because their competition has it. I personally love the technology and wherever I see one - out pops my iPhone and I go to the website - in the grocery store, in a bank, on a bus, etc. Maybe the QR codes are in the wrong places in our industry - imagine a giant QR code on a bus stop or the back of a grocery cart - what else do you have to look at while you wait on the line to checkout or wait for the bus?

  7. I may be new to real estate photography, but I'm not new to real estate. I work with my husband who's a Realtor. It's important to recognize that any ONE individual who understands what a QR code is and uses it IS A POTENTIAL BUYER. So, if you don't use these codes in your literature, you could be losing a potential sale. I designed my husband's business card WITH a QR code linking readers to his website (and I tested the size of the code on various Smart phones before printing the cards).
    My real estate photography business includes designing print marketing materials for agents. I do plan to recommend they use QR codes.

  8. Just like any marketing tool QR codes need to be used appropriately and targeted at the right audience at the right time. Bill, I’m glad you shared your experiences because I think QR codes are a great application for real estate when used to promote properties and are pointed to a virtual tour. It's like having a 24x7 open house. When I think of a QR code it reminds me of Cracker Jacks. When you buy a box of Cracker Jacks you know the prize isn’t going to be a new flat screen TV or trip to Hawaii, but the idea of getting a surprise is still compelling. When marketers figure out that they can pique viewers' curiosity and hit them with a payoff to increase QR usage then you will see more everyday Joe's and Joanna's excited about what the next prize might be.

  9. I've been encouraging my clients to use them for a couple of years, and in this area, I do see them more and more in real estate. Coldwell Banker now has them permanently on all of their signs. I see them all the time in magazine ads. They're on almost every page of any car magazine you pick up. Best Buy has had them on every price tag in the store for a couple of years. Even real estate ads in the Boston Globe classified sometimes have a QR code (fits perfectly!).

    For real estate, I think one of the major benefits is as an additional selling tool when you're on a listing appointment. The technology IS very impressive, and it's just another [free] tool in the arsenal of a good listing agent to impress a seller on their advanced marketing skills, along with pro photos, video, single property website, etc). Demonstrating that a potential buyer can sit in the driveway and look at photos and take a walk through video of their house makes mouths drop.....

    The biggest problem is a common problem with Realtors. Many are not very tech savvy, and they just latch onto the next greatest thing without thinking it through or really understanding it. QR Codes are effective when they bridge the gap between PRINT and mobile. Yet, I see many Realtors using QR codes on their website or on Facebook (pointless!). Worse yet, they use it on signs or flyers and have it connect to their website, which (of course) is not optimized for mobile! So, for the viewer, it becomes a poor user experience scrolling around on a huge, non mobile optimized website.

    I used to have a QR Code on my truck next to my logo and oftentimes I would come out to a parking lot to find someone scanning it. So people DO use them. It's the only place I've used my QR code, so I can monitor the activity.

    The benefits as a listing tool and the fact that it's FREE to use seems to make it a no brainer. You really have nothing to lose! I do agree with Jay that if and when it's integrated directly into Smart Phones it will become very popular and more mainstream.

  10. I'm a RE photographer here in Knoxville, TN. I'm beginning to see them all over town, on Magazines, Billboards, and store products. I even watched a lady scan one on the box side of some product to get dietary information about that product. Albeit not as much as I really expected, I read it was really big across the pond, I figured it was just in the "catching on" phase. Some technology is, I guess, just not to be. Ill keep watching and see what happens. I do provide one to all my clients; no one has told me they aren't using it.

  11. imo QR codes might be good or worthless depending on the market. I'm in Portugal and I work in a semi-rural area. About 10% doesn't even known how to read. Most don't even have a pc. Just a very small percentage will have a smarthphone with QR codes reading ability, and even a much smaller percentage of those will actually see and read the QR code. In this market a QR code will be completely worthless.
    In developed cities it might be good because of the effect "hey, cool! that's a QR code, let's read it" or "this agent even uses QR codes, he must be better then the ones that don't use it" but no way it will bring more buyers.
    It's just fashion. it will soon disappear or it will be widely adopted. but even if everyone uses it, only a very very small percentage of people will actually read it. it won't bring any buyers.
    I think it's good but I prefer to spend more time on more productive work. like trying to make my pictures better.

  12. We track QR Code usage at TourBuzz, and here's what we've seen since we launched QR Code support in October 2010.

    We have had 13,000 QR Code scans on our system, total. That is actually quite a lot on a nominal basis, especially since of course not everyone prints out and promotes the QR code.

    On a relative basis, it's 0.15% of all tour views, which is a tiny amount.

    Real numbers, FWIW.

  13. My own experience with them has been similar to Pedro's. I live in a resource based economy, in a community that is 600 kilometers from the nearest major center. Most people, if they have a cell phone, don't know what QR codes are. Some of the agents in the area have started using them, and then stopped. It's as if the whole QR code phenomenon lasted six months here. I could absolutely see them picking up lots of traffic in urban areas but their application seems quite niche to me at the moment, and I don't use them.

  14. I'm pretty geeky and QR codes have always seemed like an extra, unnecessary step. Just tell me the name of the web site. It seems better to have a memorable URL that can be remembered later than a code that requires extra steps and physical proximity to the code itself. Just my opinion.

  15. There is something about the QR codes that has the "cool" factor. I guess that is why I like them. Like most new technology it follows the S curve. At first only the innovators will use new technology then as more and more people use it it hits critical mass. We shall see if this technology follows the same path.

  16. That's great information Alan. Thanks.
    "On a relative basis, it’s 0.15% of all tour views, which is a tiny amount." well I bet more then 0.10% of them are from real estate agents and not buyers.

    I disagree with Ethan. If it was so good then we wouldn't have these 0.15% real numbers. It would be much greater and it would be widely used. And past experiences like Daniel said, it wasn't widely adopted, instead "the whole QR code phenomenon lasted six months here".

    As an agent I rarely use it. Only if my client is a geek. He will love have a QR code. But that's just for making him happier, not for marketing.

    Actually the whole idea about a QR code is great but the implementation in real estate is really bad. It just represents a link. There are smarthphone softwares that use write recognition, I could take a photo of a link and have the same effect of a code. But then I could remember a link but not a code. Also it has the inconvenient of the possible buyer just seeing the particular property and nothing more. With a general link he will have to make 1 or 2 clicks and that represents more time on a website and maybe finding something else.

    As a fashion can't really stay behind, and I could even use it take advantage of it and implement it better then the competition. But generally people don't care. In the end there are A LOT more important things to promote a house or to get more clients then just QR codes.

  17. Oddly enough, I have seen ReMax here in the Greater Toronto Area (Canada) doing a billboard ad campaign to promote QR codes... I have an image from my cellphone of the billboard - Larry I will try and email it to you as soon as I can.

  18. I have experienced similar numbers of QR code based hits on my listing sites. I create a link in and point the QR code to that so that I can easily track all QR code hits. The percentage of viewers using the codes is tiny. One reason it may not be effective is sizing of the code. Many of the ones I see around Los Angeles are too small to scan from the car. When given a choice between getting out and walking over to the sign to scan the code or simply entering the URL most people would opt for staying in the car, no? I think post cards are an ideal vehicle for QR codes and encourage my clients to use them there.

  19. I use them on my listings but so far I haven't found many people use them. I have a sign rider that has the single property website url, a "text for info" number and the QR code. From what I have been able to track the QR code is the least effective of those three...

  20. My wife's company uses them a lot with great success. They are on a main thoroughfare in the heart of town and have a 4' x 4' custom QR code in a front window. It takes people to a custom built mobile website where they can search for homes on their phones. The company moniker is a pineapple so we designed it with a pineapple in the center and made the code green and white to give it a difference and more interest rather than the typical Black and White ones.

    M. James

  21. Not sure they'll ever see widespread adoption with Baby Boomers but I can foresee increased usage for the younger demographics.

  22. At the Spring 2011 Home Show in Atlanta there was only one QR code to be found and that was on the back of a landscaper's business card.

    Six months later at the Fall 2011 Home Show they were everywhere. In booths, on walls, on brochures, on business cards, everwhere I turned I saw QR codes.

    This may not be a very scientific study but surely it means somthing.

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