In a time when brands are trying to join the gap between online content and the real world, it is inevitable that discussions soon turn to QR codes. Are they effective? How do we use them to enhance the consumer experience? What are the best use cases?

There are still cynics – many are still scarred by the QR’s past – but as you will see, the tables are starting to turn.

Back to the future

QR codes have had a rough past. A decade ago, marketers rushed to slap them on everything – from posters to packaging, cupcakes and bus shelters. The black and white pixel epidemic spread fast, but fell hard.

Like any bold trailblazer, the early QR code took the full brunt of bad PR. The user experience was patchy, the technical barriers were high, implementation was poor, and the outcomes not clear. Regarded as gimmicky, they became the joke of the marketing industry.

The Revival

Technical barriers removed

Support for QR code scanning via the inbuilt camera on your mobile means that it is easier than ever to interact with a QR code. No need to download a special QR code reading app.

The tech giants – Apple, Google, WeChat – all recognised its importance, integrating QR code reading as default functionality.


Behaviour is changing

The Chinese consumer has redefined the way we interact with QR codes. In China, everything is done via a QR code – making payments, finding information, connecting with people, accessing services. And this changing behaviour is now spreading around the world. According to a recent survey by Statistia, in the US alone, an estimated 11 Million households will scan a QR Code in 2020.

A South Korean subway station has a QR code Tesco grocery store for last minute purchases.

Track usage

An advantage to QR codes is that an interaction with an offline campaign can be measured. It can be hard to measure eyeballs, but QR scans and subsequent engagement can be.


Best Practise

Call-to-Action (CTA)

The technological barriers may have gone, but the communications challenge is real. This is why so many implementations still fail. You need to give consumers a reason to scan. You need to convince them that it is worth their effort, and that there is value for them by taking action.

Here are our top tips on creating a clear CTA

  1. Grab attention with a clear message
  2. Instruct them on how to take action
  3. Provide an incentive / communicate value 

Here are some examples…

A printed visitors guide

Take the guide on your mobile (Message)
Open your camera and hover over the code. (Instructions)
Search the interactive guide, and get directions. (The value)


Wayfinding signage

Follow the itinerary on your mobile (Message)
Open your camera and hold over the code. (Instructions)
Click to follow the route and listen to the audio guide. (The value)


We have seen that there is also value in including a visual cue for your audience in conjunction with your CTA. A simple mobile icon helps prime users. Your goal is to give them the confidence to pick up their mobile and point it at your QR code without hesitation.

Mobile optimised landing page

It goes without saying that you should be directing your audience to a webpage that is optimised for the mobile experience, and that the landing page is what you indicated in your CTA.


For Tourism

QR codes offer a way to connect the online world with the real world – using offline (signage or printed visitor guides) to push people to an online interaction, or moving people from a desktop environment to a portable mobile experience.

Common uses within a visitor experience include:

  • Wayfinding signage
  • Interactive maps & guides
  • Exclusive content
  • Audio guides
  • Augmented Reality experiences
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Competition entry
  • Booking / making a payment

Let’s also consider how it can facilitate a connection with overseas visitors. For visitors who are unfamiliar with the roman alphabet, recalling and typing in a web address they see can be intimidating. Instead, requesting they scan a code can remove this language barrier. 



I will be the first to tell you that I recall the early days of the clunky, annoying QR code. I would shun their presence in my world and only interacted with when obliged.

Fast forward to today, I now see their potential – to enhance experiences, simplify interactions, and connect with more of the world around us.



Let’s end with a clever use of QR code technology

A clever application of QR technology

At Alpaca, we’re helping the tourism industry and brands, link inspiration to on-the-ground discovery.

Written by Zoe Manderson