Exploring QR code alternatives

Exploring QR code alternatives

This is a research article originally written to find out if there was any better alternative for QR codes which we use in our own SaaS product Happy Survey. Happy survey creates unique QR codes and links that small business owners can use to get feedback from their customers. We wanted to find out if we can make this experience easier for people who decide to provide feedback using Happy Survey.

This article will focus mainly on the advantages and disadvantages of using QR and explore other possible technology that can be used in place of QR codes. QR codes or quick response codes are essentially two dimensional matrices that hold information like links or videos that can be read by mobile devices (Ashford, 2010). Recently, the use of QR codes has increased dramatically because QR codes are inexpensive to create and contain more information than traditional barcodes. With the development of this technology, QR codes can now be customized in various shapes and colors and can also be either static or dynamic for different purposes. Furthermore, most recent mobile devices come with scanners that can easily read QR codes, making it so that users no longer have to develop apps to do so. Use of QR codes can also tracked for analytics. The major disadvantage of QR codes is that customers are required to actively engage with them, in other words, customers must already be interested in the item that the QR code will direct them to and they have no easier way to get to said item or produce the same result. This is one of the major obstacles that the Happy Survey app faces. While QR codes may be easy to scan, happy customers may not be interested in leaving reviews without more prompting and unsatisfied customers may be likely to go to websites that they are already familiar with rather than utilize the QR code. Thus, the alternative options for QR codes must be more convenient and engaging in order for a greater amount of customers to contribute reviews. Previous research has found that “perceptions of usefulness, ease of use, and compatibility as key innovation characteristics that impact user acceptance of technology” (Lo, 2014).  Some alternatives that were identified are image recognition apps (Catchoom), near field communication, iBeacon, and Snaptags.

Image recognition apps essentially require the user to take a picture of something, then the app can identify it and send the customer to a webpage. Generally, this has been used for shopping, so adapting it to provide feedback on items may be difficult, and may have to be customized for each business. An example of an image recognition app is Clickable Paper. This would increase the complexity for each business using Happy Survey to track analytics. Image recognition apps face the same issues as QR codes because they require the customers to open the app first. While image recognition allows for more options in designing products and customer interactions, if interest is a large issue within customers, then it is not a viable alternative to QR codes, especially since using image recognition would require customers to download an app first instead of using something automatically built in to their devices. 

Near field communication (NFC) systems are generally used in payment systems. Users can bring their phone, the majority of which contain chips that allow device-to-device communication. NFC allows for three general modes: emulation, reader/writer, and peer-to-peer (Wikipedia). Emulation refers to the ability for NFC devices to act like cards such as through Apple Pay. Reader/Writer refers to the ability for devices to read information from an object with an NFC chip like posters. Peer-to-peer is the ability wherein two devices with NFC can communicate information. NFC may be a better choice than QR codes because notifications can be pushed automatically to customers if they pay digitally through Apple Pay, which is used increasingly often. Then, there is no previous interest necessary. One drawback is that the business must already have or procure a NFC device. 

iBeacon is a technology developed by Apple that sends information through Bluetooth Low Energy, a form of Bluetooth with shorter range, but requiring less energy. Essentially, iBeacon, and other technology similar to it can pinpoint the local location or a device and send it specific information based on location. For example, if the user is near the cash register, the iBeacon may be able to send out a link to a survey for Happy Survey. Most iBeacons are relatively inexpensive, however, they are still being developed. Unfortunately, this requires that users download an app to receive information from iBeacon. Furthermore, because iBeacon is an Apple product, Android have to download additional software to receive notifications which will decrease the amount of people receiving information. This technology is not well-suited for users who may be less interested in giving feedback because most would not go through the additional trouble of installing an app, but this may change if installing the app was only required once to give feedback for all businesses using Happy Survey or if there was some incentive given. 

SnapTags are similar to QR codes, but instead of using a pattern of square dots, they generally use company logos making them more visually appealing and thus able to draw more attention. SnapTags reach a wider audience, namely those without smartphones or reader apps, because SnapTags can be accessed via a normal camera although it still requires that users do an action (text or email) to activate the code or that they download an app. They also have more tracking ability than QR codes because they send information through text and/or email, and the content that they link too can be changed and reused. Additionally, based on user location, the SnapTag can route the user to different sites. There can be more sophisticated direction behind a SnapTag than a QR code. One downside is the same as that of QR codes, which is that the technology requires user interest. Another is that SnapTags cost money whereas the majority of QR codes do not. 

Overall, there are two choices that may be good alternatives to QR codes. Not all Android phones currently have QR code scanners built-in and not everyone has a smartphone so using SnapTags may increase the accessibility and reach of Happy Survey. Although it requires an app to be used on smartphones and an email or text to be used on normal cameras, its use is becoming more popular so people may have already downloaded an app or be willing to do so and it reaches more people than QR codes. Additionally, SnapTag has better advertising power than QR codes and a range of prices and businesses can choose relatively inexpensive options. Than analytics that SnapTag offers may be useful to incorporate into Happy Survey as well. The other alternative is near field communication. Since most new Apple and Android phones come equipped with NFC chips, the technology should not be difficult to incorporate. The main advantage is that given users with NFC-enabled devices, users don’t have to take any action. On the flip side, if users are not paying electronically or ordering through mobile device, this may be difficult to implement. It may be best to use a combination of two technologies like QR codes and NFC or SnapTag and NFC. In both cases, it would be beneficial to include some sort of incentive for response.

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