What Is a QR Code and How Does It Work?

What Is a QR Code

Internet fads constantly come and go, but one that has stubbornly stuck around, despite repeated incorrect predictions of its imminent demise, is the QR (Quick Response) code.

So what is a QR code and why is it important?

If you’ve never heard the term before, you may be scratching your head right now.  While the more Internet savvy may already know, for those who don’t, here’s what a common QR code looks like:

qr code sample

Perhaps a bit odd looking at first, this code is something which small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be aware of since it is increasingly becoming an important tool. The QR code is basically a natural extension of the conventional barcode, which has been around since the mid 1970s on everything from supermarket groceries to large container shipments. It was designed in 1994 for Japanese auto-makers to track car parts. Now it is being used by big companies and small businesses.

Advantages of the QR Code for Your Business

The QR code has many advantages over a conventional barcode, however. The main advantage is that you can store up to a hundred times more information on a QR code than on a conventional horizontal barcode. In addition, QR codes can be scanned from any direction for 360 degrees. This makes them easier for your device to read and lessens the possibility of background interference.

The third main advantage is that from a marketing point of view, the code’s appearance is unique and interesting, increasing the likelihood of engaging the customer in any campaign where it might be deployed.

A QR code reader can be downloaded onto a smartphone by anyone, and they are mostly free of charge. This means that any customer can walk into your business with his or her smartphone, and scan a QR code which you have generated. An Android user can use something like QR Code Reader, and an iPhone user can download the Quick Scan app. Both are free of charge.

There are many websites allowing you to generate QR codes and again, most are free of charge. You can then download them to your computer for printing. A Google search for “QR code generator” brings up countless results, each offering different options. So it is simply a case of selecting the options that works best for you.

Possible QR Code Applications

Now, let’s look at some business-related scenarios where you would use QR codes.

  • Use a QR Code to direct a customer to the URL for your website, Facebook, Twitter or other social media page.
  • Use it to share a text message (anything from “Happy Holidays!” to “Have you seen what we have upstairs?)
  • Use it as a discount code to be taken to the checkout counter for 10 percent off, for example.
  • Use it on your business card with your contact details embedded inside the code.
  • Use it to link to a Google Maps location for your new store location perhaps.
  • Use it to link to a YouTube video or channel perhaps demonstrating new products or funny company videos.
  • Use it to link to an app store download (perhaps of your company’s latest eCommerce app?)
  • Use it to embed pricing for your products as an alternative for more conventional price tags.
  • Put it on your website’s “contact us” page allowing people scan it and get your contact information direct on their phones.
  • Put the code on the tables and walls of your restaurant as an easy way for customers to send off a Foursquare or Facebook status update.
  • Put a code on your restaurant’s takeout menu allowing customers to scan it with their phones and instantly call to place an order.
  • Put a QR code at the end of promotional videos taking viewers to a landing page on your website.

Hopefully, you can see by now the advantages of using QR codes in your business. The codes can help you store a tremendous amount of information and provide a creative new way of engaging customers. Encourage them to get their phones out and start scanning. Offer an incentive of a discount available only to customers through the code.

Not Everyone is Convinced of QR Code Value

Of course, there are still some marketing experts who believe that QR codes have missed the boat entirely. Marketing strategist Anise Smith thinks that the time for QR codes was five years ago, and the lack of popularity in smartphones back then, compared to today, severely hampered the possibility of QR codes seriously taking hold.

“We are currently at a point that the technology needed for QR codes to succeed is in place” said Smith, in an interview with Small Business Trends. “Unfortunately these elements were not in place as QR Codes started to gain in popularity. Had they been in place, QR Codes would have been a game changer. The time for QR codes is now in the past because there’s now technology like Augmented Reality which presents much better technological capabilities than QR codes.”

Still, if you look around you, you’ll see QR codes just about everywhere. Though as GigaOM points out, not all application of QR codes uses the technology to its best advantage.

For example, the site mentions QR codes that have been seen on the backs of buses where they are impossible to scan, or QR codes linking to websites not optimized for mobile devices.

Perhaps lack of more thoughtful QR code marketing strategies up until now has hampered the technology’s more widespread adoption in the business community. But that may not mean that QR codes are obsolete as a tool for small business. Consider the above applications for QR codes in your business. Creative use of the technology may still give you unexpected advantages when engaging your customers and boosting sales.

QR Codes Photo via Shutterstock, 
QR Code Sample Photo via Shutterstock,


Mark O'Neill Mark O'Neill is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering software and social media. He is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 25 years, and has successfully made the leap from newspapers and radio onto the Internet. From 2007-2013, he was the Managing Editor of MakeUseOf.com.

15 Reactions
  1. I’ll admit that these QR codes often leave me confused. I know that they can give discounts but it looks to much of a hassle for me. I wish that they have a way to make it easier for people who are not that familiar with it.

  2. Like most technologies, for QR codes to be in main stream, we need to have an ecosystem supporting it. In China, QR codes are very common. Not only are they widely used by retailers, they are built-in QR scanning in the popular messaging apps like WeChat. Almost every smartphone users there know about QR codes. This is no so for other countries.

    Another common complaint is that QR codes are “ugly” (black and white squares). But in my opinion, this is not as serious a problem as the first because many companies have already developed solutions to address this problem. Take a look at visualead.com and ounchtag.com. Both produce very nice QR codes that are merged with a background image, making the QR codes almost “invisible”.

  3. I would like to more information about QR code and how its work and is there any possible to link up with GPS if I get your response it will be help me lots of

  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. QR Codes are really helpful in sharing information and keeping it safe, we can also use these QR codes in Name Cars, Business Cards which can help us share our contact information with others in a creative and safe way.

  5. I have recently downloaded Opera browser for Android phone, it has got included QR scanner, so no need fo a separate app to scan QR codes., It has also got a free VPN.
    I intend using QR codes to give them as small pieces of paper like business cards with the code and to scan them ant take themn to my web page/ blog/ vlog.
    And it also takes lee paper to print a QR code than a business card. If you want to give away fliers.

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