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Cracking the (QR) code

Quick response barcodes — virtually nonexistent before 2010 — can now be found in thousands of magazines and newspapers, on bus stop billboards and on myriad business cards.

As businesses seek fresh new ways to reach consumers, the use of these square, black-and-white, maze-like barcodes has proliferated over the past several years, with consumers responding in kind, according to a new report by Pitney Bowes.

Once scanned with a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet computer, a QR code can direct consumers to any website — ranging from YouTube or a company’s mobile platform to a social media page or even an online coupon.

Market studies conducted by Forrester Research show that QR code usage among U.S. adults who own a cellphone nearly quadrupled from 2011 to 2012.

In 2010, only 1 percent of U.S. adults with a mobile phone had used a two-dimensional barcode reader, according to Forrester Research data compiled in a Jan. 15 white paper by Stamford-based Pitney Bowes Inc.

The proportion of U.S. QR code users rose to 5 percent in 2011 and 19 percent in 2012, according to the report, with 27 percent of North American and European consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 reporting the use of QR codes last year.

“A QR code, much like Facebook and Twitter and a website, is just another extension of your brand,” said Justin Amendola, vice president of digital strategy for Pitney Bowes.

While acknowledging that QR code use may not quadruple again from 2012 to 2013, Amendola said the use of the now-omnipresent barcodes by consumer-facing businesses will continue to rise.

“I think the biggest driver will be brands understanding what a good experience around QR codes is and conditioning consumers that they’re going to get a relevant, mobile-friendly experience whenever they scan a code,” he said.

QR codes placed in magazines were the most effective, according to the Pitney Bowes report.

Last year, 27 percent of QR code users in the U.S., U.K., Germany and France accessed a QR code present in a magazine. The next-most-popular venues for QR code use were posters, packages and mail.

Amendola said QR code use by a given company is likely determined by what industry that company operates in and not the size of its consumer base.

A business like Best Buy, for example, might use QR codes on in-store product displays to direct customers to websites that have more information on a given item, Amendola said.

“It’s very common to be in Best Buy or another big-box retail environment and to see QR codes on product labels,” he said. “It allows consumers to go online and instantly access more information on those products.”

At its simplest, Amendola said, a QR code could redirect customers to a video that shows the product in action, or a website that contains reviews of the product.

Amendola recounted recently walking into a bookstore in Mystic that advertised on shop windows that it was “QR code-friendly.”

“They had QR codes linking to video interviews with the author on a lot of their products,” which he said enabled the bookstore “to engage their customers with killer video content.”

The biggest mistake when integrating QR codes into a marketing campaign is for a company to redirect consumers back to its website homepage, Amendola said.

“The number one reason why QR codes fail is they embed a simple Web address,” he said. “People don’t want to navigate a standard website on their mobile device.”

The first step, he said, “is you really have to understand what it is you want that customer to do. Is it a video I’m driving them to? Is it a mobile version of a website? Or is it a campaign landing page?”

Amendola said there are a number of websites that allow companies to generate QR codes, and that firms such as Pitney Bowes provide platforms that allow users to track QR code use by consumers.

The basic platform offered by Pitney Bowes starts at $8.99 a month, he said.

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Patrick Gallagher

Bio: Fairfield County Bureau Chief Staff Reporter Westchester County Business Journal Covers: Economy, energy, government, infrastructure and public works projects, law, media, technology Phone: (914) 694-3600, ext. 3017

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