A lot has been written and said about QR codes. Many pronounce them dead – others see a positive future for them. Often these opinions are agenda-driven. This article takes an agnostic look at recent research touching on QR codes, highlighting key statistics and identifying trends where they can reasonably be deduced, from both the marketer and consumer sides of the equation.
Looking first at some positive projections, a recent study sponsored by the Mobile Marketing Association and mLightenment suggests that spending on mobile recognition, of which QR codes are a primary component, ought to almost double this year to reach $164 million, before continuing to grow strongly, reaching $364 million in spending by 2015.
That estimate is likely based in some part on rosy reports of increased scanning levels. Just recently, ScanLife said it processed 18 million scans via its ScanBuy application in Q1 2013. That’s up from 13 million scans in Q1 2012, which in itself was up 157% over Q1 2011.
But, a 38% year-over-year rise in scans between Q1 2012 and Q1 2013, while healthy, isn’t quite as dramatic as the preceding 157% jump. And while ScanLife is just one resource (albeit a leading one) and its figures can’t necessarily be applied to the industry as a whole, there’s reason to think that the increase in scans year-over-year could be more the result of continued smartphone penetration than a rise in QR code use among smartphone owners. Indeed, recent data from comScore shows that smartphone penetration in the US (as a percentage of the mobile market) grew by 30% between Q1 2012 and Q1 2013, which suggests that the 38% increase in scans is not very dramatic.
Another way to look at it is to compare smartphone ownership against the number of scanners. Using data provided by comScore, the below interactive chart details:
The results are quite striking – the number of mobile subscribers scanning codes has virtually stalled even as the number of smartphone owners has increased. That implies that there is an ever-shrinking proportion of mobile owners who have scanned a code.
How does that result measure up with Scanbuy’s increased scanning volume? The most likely explanations are either that existing QR code scanners are scanning more actively, or that Scanbuy is securing a greater market share over time.
The comScore data looks at monthly totals – but what about other estimates, such as the proportion of mobile owners who are aware of QR codes, or who have ever scanned one?
Key statistics about QR code usage released this year follow. Links (where available) to the research or its coverage, along with the date of its release, are also provided.
Trends/Takeaways: On the basis of the data contained above, one can reasonably say that somewhere in the realm of 1 in 5 smartphone users have scanned a QR or barcode on their device. (Whether or not that constitutes high or low adoption is in the eye of the beholder, although it does appear to trail other mobile commerce activities. Still, it’s difficult to make the case that adoption is booming – this study released in early 2012 found about 1 in 5 saying they’d scanned a code. And the comScore data certainly seems to suggest that the number of scanners has reached some sort of plateau.)
In terms of scanners’ demographics, it seems that QR code use is higher than average among African-Americans, but lower among Hispanics. QR code scanning also seems to be trending towards a more even age distribution, while remaining mostly the province of men.
Trends/Takeaways: The marketer view on QR codes is somewhat at odds with the consumer statistics. Whereas relatively few consumers say they’re actively scanning QR codes, marketers are finding them to be quite an effective mobile marketing tactic. Even so, there is some evidence that marketer interest in QR codes is falling off, and currently, adoption of QR/barcode campaigns by marketers is probably in the vicinity of about 40%.
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