Don’t Call It A Comeback: Pandemic Drives Accelerated Usage Of QR Codes

QR codes are back, but then again, they never really went away. Toyota Motor Corp. created QR codes in 1994 as a way to track parts and processes. QR codes are now part of everything, from accessing magazine advertising to conducting commerce across the likes of Alipay and WeChat.

To that end, in an interview with PYMNTS, Wei Jiang, president and chief operating officer of Citcon, said that in the age of the pandemic, the barcodes help cement relationships between merchants and their consumers. As he told PYMNTS, it may be apt to term the uptake in QR codes as a rebirth — as the codes themselves and the technology underpinning them are nothing new. The codes, said Jiang, have spread from Japan to countries spread out across the globe, including the U.S.

In July 2020 Citcon announced that it would buy OPAY Inc. in a bid to help Canadian merchants serve consumers with QR payments technology. Looking ahead, there may be more acquisitions on the horizon, but present opportunities in Canada (through the aforementioned OPAY deal) show that there is potential to leverage QR codes in grocery store settings, like kiosks and self-checkout.

Studies such as the “QR Code Payments Tracker” conducted in collaboration between PYMNTS and Citcon show the adoption of the codes themselves has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“We started to see the QR code become agile and become really popular,” Jiang said. “And not only for payments — we see people using them to redefine the engagement experience between merchants and consumers.”

The overarching goal for those merchants, demanded by their end consumers, is to provide a touchless, secure and safe environment to complete transactions.

End-To-End Shopping Experience

But beyond individual brick-and-mortar or even online settings, he said the QR code can provide an “end-to-end shopping and engagement experience for the consumers” that extends well beyond the mere transaction. QR codes, he maintained, help enhance the consumer journey even before the transaction takes place. He offered up the example where a consumer in a restaurant can scan codes to peruse a menu and order lunch — all without interacting with the staff.

“It is a full touchless experience,” he said. “They can then make the payment from that QR code and even add the tip.” There’s also a sharing component to the codes, where Venmo users can publicly share meals and other activities and coupons on their feeds. That functionality, he said, increases the use of the QR codes, especially for payments.

QR codes can also enhance the merchant’s engagement with their targeted audience across any number of channels, where, for example, remote payments (through “pay by” links) can replace in-store sales lost as a result of the pandemic.

“The merchants can send a QR code with the payment information to the consumers remotely. Or the consumer can use a coupon code,” said Jiang, “and then they can pick up products at the curb.”

Payment plugins, such as those on offer from Citcon for eCommerce platforms such as Shopify and Salesforce Commerce Cloud, help merchants adopt QR codes and alternative payment methods, said Jiang. Plugins, he said, “allow a merchant launch with mobile wallet payments within a very short timeframe. It just requires a couple of hours of configuration.” Also, he said, it does not cost those merchants much in resources to get QR code acceptance up and running.

The impetus is there for merchants to offer QR codes, said Jiang, as PYMNTS’ own research shows that one-third of consumers who prefer QR codes would not even consider visiting a store that doesn’t feature them. And among digital wallet users, 40 percent of those surveyed would not transact with merchants that don’t accept QR payments.