What Are QR Codes, and How Can These Small Squares Help Your Business Thrive?

Lift the veil on this older tech that’s getting a lot of buzz right now, and see how they can breathe new life into your business

Over the past year you may have noticed these small black and white jumbled square boxes popping up everywhere. You may have even visited a restaurant where the server asked you to scan one of these codes to see their menu? Maybe you scanned one in a store window to get more information on a product on display. Perhaps you even got to use one as a coupon at a local retailer?

Either way, you likely have seen them around, and being used for just about everything by now. What are QR codes, and can you really use this seemingly “new” tech to help your business survive, or even thrive going forward? The short answer: Yes!

Let’s take a short trip down QR Code Lane to see where these codes came from, and why they can be such a powerful tool for your organization.

QR Codes, A Brief History

Back in 1994, in the country of Japan, the QR, or quick reference code was created by, Masahiro Hara. It was borne out of the need for the country to have a better way of tracking the goods moving in, around, and out of the country. The 1-dimensional bar codes were the standard, but unfortunately could not store enough data to meet demand.

Traditional bar codes, like the ones we still use at the grocery store, can only store a limited amount of information – a series of numbers. This works when all you need is a way to separate items in a shopping cart, but more data was needed to monitor things like a packages’ country of origin, contents, color, and other details that need to be quickly referenced.

After years of research and development, Mr. Hara and his associate released the first version of what we all now know as the QR code. Incredibly, the new format of square black and white spaces was capable of storing up to 7,000 individual characters, including letters, numbers, and special characters, like percent signs, plus signs, and more.

Early, Widespread Adoption

Sample Xpress-pay it receipt

With the more robust technology available, the Japanese automotive industry was the first major sector to make use of them on a global scale. This set the stage for the QR code to be quickly adopted in other industries, and in other countries.

Realizing the power that these codes held for international commerce, Mr. Hara decided to release the technology to the public. While Masahiro still held the patent for QR code development, he ensured that no one would ever be charged royalties, and asked that others build on his original design to continue improving it.

Now, twenty-seven years later the QR code is once again seeing a massive spike in popularity. The difference today is the exponential growth of smaller private businesses. They’re using them to connect and transact with customers in new and exciting ways.

Where Are QRs Being Used?

As we discussed previously, many small and medium businesses (SMBs) are using QR codes in numerous ways to engage customers. Here are just a few of the most popular I’ve seen in recent months:

1. Restaurants

Many restaurants are faced with a huge shortages of patrons. Even if they can get customers in the door, most are legally required to limit capacity to just 50% of what they once were allowed. Clearly this is wreaking havoc on the restaurant industry but what can be done to help their bottom line?

table with food on it

a.) One simple way to reduce overhead is by cutting down the cost of printing expensive menus no one wants to touch anyways. Instead, place a simple QR code on the table. Customers can then scan the code, and be directed to either a webpage or downloadable PDF version of the menu. Not only does the restaurant save on printing, but they can update menus in real-time, even mid-meal if they have to “86” something.

b.) QR codes can also direct patrons to a secure payment page on their own smartphone. This means customers can checkout faster to turnover tables faster and improve customers experience. In the end, this helps restaurants serve more customers in the same amount of time, and grow profits closer to what they were pre-COVID.

2. Coupons

It’s a well known fact that everyone loves getting a “good deal”. Have you ever heard anyone brag about how they paid too much for something? Of course not. Getting a good deal makes us feel like we’re special and part of an exclusive club.

QR Coupon

Well, what better way to play that angle than to give your customers a QR code they can scan to take advantage of a special offer right now?

3. Payments

Aside from being a great way to provide customers with information, and offer them limited time offers, QR codes are also extremely helpful in enabling transactions anywhere, any time, and for almost any reason. This stretches well beyond the doors of your local restaurant.

Do you have technicians out in the field giving free estimates? What if they were able to take a payment as soon as the customer agreed to “seal the deal”? Print a QR code on a sticker, and place it on the tech’s clipboard. Customers can scan the code from a safe distance and pay their deposit from their own phone in seconds.

Are you sending paper or electronic invoices to customers? Placing a QR code on them allows the customers to scan and pay them as soon as the bill arrives. This helps both improve your cash flow, and provide the customer with a better experience.

Do you transact with customers at a POS terminal? Most modern POS systems and check printers can easily display QR codes that customers can scan to pay their bill.

Other Capabilities

Beyond the major applications we just spoke about, QR codes can also be used in a lot of different ways to help your business survive and thrive. Remember how they can store up to 7,000 characters? That’s a lot of information in a tiny little box. Honestly, that stat kind of blows my mind. So what else can they be used for in your business? According to SmartInsights, the most popular are business applications that include the ability to:

  • Direct customers to a landing page/website
  • Auto-dial your business phone number
  • Start a text or email message to send
  • Send an email
  • Download your business/contact card
  • Initiate app downloads
  • View your business address on a map
  • Direct customers to your social media pages, blog, vlog, and other sites
  • Assist in their shopping and eCommerce experience

Goes to show that there’s a lot of flexibility to mold these tiny codes to suit your needs. Which one, or “ones” can you use in your business? What others might you come up with inside those 7,000 characters?

How About Augmenting Your Reality

One of my favorite applications QR codes have been used for over the years is actually giving us a great tool to provide an Augmented Reality (AR) for customers. When we first started researching how we could use QR codes for Xpress-pay in 2009, we found that the use cases extended well outside of the normal business application mentioned above. For example, check out how Bombay Sapphire used a variation of QR technology to make their bottle look amazing on someone’s phone, while also providing customers with useful recipes they can make with their purchase…

Bombay Bottle

I should note that the Bombay ad in this video used a variation of the QR technology that requires a specific app to get the experience. There are a number of apps available that allow you to enhance the QR experience, but I’d personally advise against it. Using other apps adds friction to the customer experience, and will reduce the number of people who engage with it. Plus, most modern smartphones now have stock QR code readers built into the cameras, so best to use what’s readily available.

The Greatest Advantage of QRs

Beyond everything we talked about so far, one of the greatest advantages QR codes offer is the ability to accept Contactless Payments from customers. If you haven’t had a chance to read our other post about Contactless Payments, be sure to check that out next. In the meantime, let’s take a brief look at just how these little boxes can have such a profound impact on your business.

First, consumers are demanding them. In fact, 30% of customers over 18 preferred to use a contactless payment option when visiting their favorite businesses, according to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey. QR codes are one of the only true Contactless Payment options, especially when you’re running face-to-face transactions. QR codes can be scanned from a safe distance, unlike tap-to-pay solutions that use nearfield communication (NFC) chips, like ApplePay. This means QR code-based payment solutions are easier, safer, and more hygienic than their tap-to-pay counterparts.

Target Audience

Also, because QR codes can store so much information they can be customized for your business needs in countless ways. In terms of payments, this means you can specifically track where every transaction is initiated from so you can analyze which sections of your business are working, and which may need some attention.

What about hardware needed to offer this? Well, if you consider a sticker hardware then you’re in luck because that’s the only physical item you’ll need. Whereas traditional ePayment solutions typically require you to buy an expensive POS system, tablet, or some other sort of device to operate, QR codes can be presented anywhere you want, and cost nothing to produce. Want to make your own right now? Head to www.qrstuff.com now and follow their directions to create and download your very own custom QR.

Struggling to get your customers to pay on-time? Perhaps payment options is the reason why? Placing a prominent QR code on invoices, your website, or even on the side of your work truck will get people’s attention and give them a clearer path to settling their bill.

What if you could turn every email, social media post, video, webpage, or brochure you created into a money-making opportunity? QR codes let you to do just that. With a simple way to scan-and-pay, when customer’s emotions are high, you’ll be able to realize greater returns from your campaigns. Plus, by customizing each QR code, you’ll be able to track which campaigns are resonating with your audience, and which need updating.

Working Xpress-pay QR code

What to do next?

It can be safely said that QR codes are here to stay. Their use is also projected to grow by triple-digits in the next few years, so how do you think you can begin using them in your business?

For more insights into how these little boxes, and Contactless Payments in general, can help propel your business into the future, please contact us today. Our team would love to hear your thoughts.

(607) 753-6156 | sales@Xpress-pay.com


Thomas Buttino
Thomas Buttino
(from his “good” side)

About the Author

Thomas is a 16-year payments industry veteran. He’s helped hundreds of SMBs expand their understanding of how digital payments work, and how to use them to grow their organizations.

As the Director of Marketing for Systems East, Inc. & Xpress-pay, Thomas hopes to show organizations that with the right approach to business, anyone can remove barriers, and have a lasting impact on those around them.