Survey: 83 Percent Of Young Shoppers Can't Handle QR Codes

Given the current retail fascination with QR codes—with recent trials at Tesco on subway walls, Macy's on products, American Express on beer cans and eBay on practically everything—it stands to reason those little boxed lines are doing rather well.

A recent credible survey, however, found that not only are most younger consumers oblivious to what QR codes are, but the many who do know what they are can't get them to function. In short, 83 percent of the 1,300 14- to 24-year-olds surveyed couldn't access a QR code regardless of how good the offer was. Looks like some people skipped an important step in product rollout.

That news is pretty bad, given the strong mobile interest—or general high-tech and experimentation comfort level—of that demographic. If they're confused or apathetic, the numbers won't likely get better as surveys examine consumers in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. This particular survey was conducted between May 20 and May 30 by Youth Pulse (a.k.a., YPulse), which tracks marketing trends among the 14- to-24-year-old segment.

The survey breakdowns also hold little optimism. Some 64 percent said they had no idea what a QR code was, even when shown a picture of it. That picture part negates the possibility that they knew what QR codes were and had to use them but simply didn't recognize the name.

On top of that 64 percent who had no idea about QR codes, 6 percent "have seen them but can't figure out how to use them" and another 13 percent "haven't used them, but say they could figure out how to use them if they wanted to." That's a total of 83 percent. As for the remaining 17 percent, 4 percent have used a QR code once, 6 percent have used one two to three times and 7 percent have used it four or more times.

"I think the confusion for those who can't figure out how to use them is that they don't realize they need an app to read the code and, even if they do, they may not know the images are called QR codes in order to search for a QR code reader app," said Melanie Shreffler, the Editor-in-Chief for Ypulse. "When I first learned of QR codes a few years ago, a friend was trying to tell me what they are, and she said you just need to snap a picture of the image with your phone and voila. I asked how my phone's camera would know what to do with that weird image. She thought for a minute and said 'I have no idea, but somehow it must.' I tried it and obviously it didn't work. Eventually I went online and did a little research about how to use QR codes. I think that same scenario is probably happening for other users who are just learning about QR codes."

Shreffler's speculation is frighteningly likely. The problem here is best illustrated by the Macy's experiment, where almost no signage and even less training of store associates pretty much left customers to figure it out on their own.

Much of the work needs to be done by marketing, with customer and store associate education and then lots of signage to remind people of the process. Industry pressure can encourage phones to ship with QR software already installed. If we're lucky, it could even be set to auto-launch when it sees the proper image.

Until that happens, no one should be surprised when QR experiments deliver disappointing results.