10 tips for using QR codes

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You may not know what a QR code is, but chances are you’ve probably seen them. From flyers and posters to packaging and livery, those little black and white boxes are popping up everywhere. But what are they and how can they help your business? What are QR codes?

QR codes are a kind of square bar code that is increasingly being seen on adverts and packaging. They provide a quick and easy way of getting information to a user’s smart phone using its camera and a standard app to read the code. Free QR reader apps can be downloaded quickly and easily.

A QR code can be made to initiate a number of functions, such as to dial a phone number, or put a new contact in a phone’s address book, but the most common use is to send the browser to a website.

According to Ofcom, one in three of us now has a smart phone, a figure expected to rise to 50% this year. QR codes are the only practical way to link the physical world and mobile computing, so are expected to very quickly become an essential business tool. Here are some tips to make the most of QR codes:

  1. Use free tools There are loads of free tools out there, both for creating and for reading QR codes. You can download a reader app to your phone (which must have a camera) and there are websites where you can generate code images for printing. Note that QR code and bar codes, or UPC, are not the same thing.
  2. Don’t change them QR codes can contain some redundancy and some of the shapes are for orientation and calibration. If you colour the pixels or cover them with reflective plastic, they may not work. Even the white border is part of the code.
  3. Size matters A side of a printed code should measure about one tenth of the viewing distance. If the user can hold their phone close to it, 25-30 mm should be a safe minimum distance.
  4. Use updatable documents Free services like Google Docs enable you to share editable documents on the web, but take care to use an intermediary redirect page because if you change the document its URL will change. You don’t want to have to re-print the code.
  5. Promote your web site Print QR codes on all your products, business cards, advertisements, posters, vehicles, etc. so that people can easily get to your website wherever they are.
  6. Window shopping When you are closed, or if you have displays away from your premises, you can still be selling if your ‘window shoppers’ can switch to the web and hit a ‘buy now’ button.
  7. Electronic posters and menus If you have offers that change over time – no problem. You simply make the poster a generic ‘Offer of the week’ or ‘Today’s specials’ and change the contents of the page that the QR code points to. Price lists that change are an ideal application.
  8. Electronic product tagging A printed QR code on a product can provide a way for anyone with a smart phone to identify it and get up-to-date information, such as price or re-order, or warranty and service information, which can be updated centrally.
  9. Everlasting membership and loyalty cards The details can be kept on a web page that only you can access, while the member’s card can be scanned by themselves to check their renewal date or privileges.
  10. Think for yourself! It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with if you just think through the fact that QR codes take you to a web page and you can update that web page regularly.

About the author Neil Rathbone is a founder of Q-Action, an online service for creating adaptable web pages and functions linked to QR codes.