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QR Code Uses: What Are QR Codes Used For?

September 14, 2020
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Scott
QR code menu

Wondering if QR codes are dead? Think again. QR code uses, along with who uses QR codes, are incredibly varied. But one thing is clear: the benefits of using QR codes are astounding.

QR codes can provide almost any type information. Especially dynamic QR codes that redirect to URLs. Their only constraint is what can be published on a website. And, as we all know, virtually anything can be published on a website.

Here are 10 common QR code uses, along with some especially clever QR code uses at the end. There are, of course, many more. But these are some of the most impactful and impressive.

But before we get into the good stuff, let's first cover what type of information QR codes can store, along with where QR codes are commonly displayed. That'll give you some useful context for the use cases we highlight.

What Types of Information Can QR Codes Store?

QR stands for quick response. QR codes hold much more data than traditional barcodes, and can access it faster. That's why QR codes are better than barcodes. They can store all sorts of information—from very basic, read-only information to complicated interactive experiences. Check out our How Do QR Codes Work? post for a more detailed explanation. But, for example:

  • Regular text. Imagine checking in to a hotel or a hospital with a QR code that contains the text of your contact information or an ID number. Think of welcome messages for academic courses or conferences.
  • URLs. QR codes often redirect to a web address, on which anything can be published (a menu, for example) and viewed through a mobile web browser.
  • PDFs and image files. You need not host visual assets on a website to encode them in a QR code. Simple PDFs, PNGs, and other image files can be directly stored in QR codes. If you choose a PDF, pay special attention to PDF accessibility.
  • Banking information. Your payment or credit card information can be stored in QR codes, making it possible to pay with a single scan.
  • Authentication and authorization data. WiFi networks, for example, can store authentication and encryption information that will automatically join the network upon scanning. Or a website may display a code which only grants access to registered users after scanning.

Where Are QR Codes Displayed?

One of the best things about QR codes is their agility and portability. They’re little, obvious, and can be stuck to just about anything anywhere. Understandably, that makes an exhaustive list of where QR codes can be displayed difficult. But we can narrow it down. Here are the most common places QR codes are displayed:

  • Product packaging (the box a tube of toothpaste comes in, QR code food packaging)
  • Product containers (the tube of toothpaste itself)
  • Advertisements, both print and digital
  • Presentations, lecture notes, and syllabi
  • Websites
  • Storefronts, windows, tables, and doors
  • Retail inventory (care instructions, material, etc.)
  • Industrial inventory items (serial number, manufacturing specs, etc.)
  • Business cards
  • Emails (either as an email signature or as direct marketing)
  • In-store signage
  • Catalogs
  • Flyers

Touchless Menus

Paper menus are, hands down, the single filthiest thing on restaurant tables. With about 185,000 germs per square centimeter, paper menus are about 16 times dirtier than the 2nd dirtiest thing on tables, pepper shakers.

There’s a special place in our heart for this, the first of the QR code uses. Because we legitimately believe in moving on from paper single use menus. And QR codes give the hospitality industry (and all businesses) the easiest, most affordable, and most reliable way of doing it.

A QR menu uses a QR code to deliver the entire content of a bar, restaurant, or hotel menu to whoever scans it. Here’s how it works. You publish your menu online. Then you associate the URL with a scannable QR code. When someone scans it with their phone, the touchless menu pops up. There is no touching, only scanning. It’s a 100% touchless, contactless restaurant experience.

When diners sit down, they’ll scan a QR code on table tents or displays. They can also access the QR code on the business’s website, on confirmation emails or in dining room windows. Or anywhere else the code is placed! What was once a bulky paper menu becomes an instantly-accessible, lightweight menu that anyone can see on their phone from anywhere.

A touchless menu also saves you money on paper and printing costs. The National Restaurant Association now recommends that single use menus are discarded after each use. Imagine how quickly that adds up.

In 2020, the National Restaurant Association recommends discarding all paper menus after each use. Instead of incurring mountains of printing costs or endangering guests, hospitality is embracing QR code menus. They are an important part of hospitality right now, and they’ll have a massive impact on the future.

Touchless Ordering

Touchless ordering is the next logical step after touchless menus if you’re working toward safely reopening and operating a business in 2020.

Here’s how it works. When a guest scans a QR code for a digital menu, they’re redirected to a mobile-optimized website with the published menu. If touchless ordering is integrated, guests choose items from the digital menu to add to a cart. Submitting the order either sends the contents of that cart directly to a server or creates a QR code for the server to scan. Either way, the server sends the order to the kitchen and that’s that.

You can look at touchless ordering with QR codes as added functionality to contactless menus that use QR codes. It adds the ability to digitally communicate menu selections to a server.

Contactless Payments

The payment process, seen through a post-COVID-19 lens, is a remarkable sequence of germ-swapping.

A check is handed to the customer. The customer gives the server cash or a credit card. The server makes change or runs the card. The server hands it all back to the customer. The customer sorts through the cash and leaves a tip or signs a piece of paper. The server picks it up all up. It’s a pretty substantial back-and-forth handling of items that are surprisingly dirty. Now think about servers and bartenders who do it all day. It’s not a wise approach now.

But it can be made hygienic and contactless. Here’s how.

Any time customers incur a cost, a business generates a QR code with a unique transaction identifier encoded in the QR code itself. It includes the amount you owe and where to transfer that money.

Customers then scan that QR code with any payment app on their mobile device that has QR scanning functionality (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, etc.). Most payment apps today have such functionality. Upon scanning, your payment app reads the amount and where to transfer the money. It then initiates the transfer.

Contactless payments using QR codes can exist on their own. Businesses can have paper menus, manual ordering, and contactless payments. They’d just print out QR codes with unique transaction identifiers on them, and customers would scan with their payment apps. It’s smartly becoming a common piece of restaurant technology. But the ideal situation is having it be the third and final part of creating an entirely contactless commercial experience. That means integrating contactless payments with your digital menu and touchless ordering solutions.

Taking Attendance

This is probably the most clever use of QR codes in this post. Taking attendance using QR Codes is a deceptively simple process. And it’s useful for virtually any event that needs to keep tabs on who and how many people attend.

Let’s use a professor giving a lecture as an example. Before the lecture begins, a single dynamic QR code is created. That QR code, because it’s dynamic, records every scan event it experiences. Which is a fancy way to say it records information associated with each scan. In our example, it will record the device, classroom number, and date.

Then it will surface a prompt to the person scanning it to input information. In this case, the prompt will ask for the first and last name. So every time the code is scanned, it records when, where, and who. And it will know which device was used for fraud identification purposes. If a device shows up twice having submitted two different names, something’s amiss.

All this information exports to a spreadsheet. Anyone looking at that spreadsheet afterward will know exactly how many people attended the lecture, where the lecture was, and who attended.

Checking In and Reservations

QR codes also expedite the entrance journey at hotels and restaurants, along with the check-in process at events, both large and small. It’s similar to taking attendance. A QR code is scanned every time someone enters the venue, but it’s the other side of the coin. Instead of every attendee personally scanning one central QR code, each attendee has their own QR code which is scanned upon their arrival.

Each attendee’s QR code is usually provided to them via email or on a ticket prior to the event or reservation. When a staff member scans their code, the unique information encoded in it is checked against a database of tickets sold or reservations made. If it matches, the attendee is admitted to the event, the hostess is notified that they’re ready to be sat, or they’re shown to their room.

It’s an ultra efficient way to cut down queue times at big events, lobbies, front desks, and host/hostess stands. And because the codes are one-time-use and contain simple read-only information, they’re simply static QR codes.

restaurant menu bar codes

QR Code Uses in Healthcare

One particularly noble use of QR codes is in the healthcare industry. Here are some ways hospitals and healthcare businesses leverage the almost limitless power of QR codes.

  • Identifying patients. QR code use in healthcare to identify patients is similar to using QR codes for checking in at an event. Each patient has a unique QR code assigned to them. Encoded in that QR code is unique identifying information specific to that patient. First and last name, perhaps. Insurance information. Current prescriptions. When the patient arrives at their healthcare provider, the QR code is scanned and the patient’s information is received.
  • Drug safety, side effects, and usage. Many healthcare providers place QR codes in healthcare on prescription bottles, bags, or drug informational material. Upon scanning, they’ll redirect to a mobile-optimized website with all the relevant information about the drug a patient could need. Instead of having to read microscopic text on the side of pill bottles, the unlimited space of web publishing is harnessed.
  • Medical equipment information. Medical equipment is an entire universe. Knowing how to operate and maintain every piece of medical equipment in a healthcare office is impossible. Healthcare providers always reference instructional and usage material to properly use the ever-changing technology they’re surrounded by. Fixing QR codes on to machines or in a SOP manual is a space-saving way to easily access detailed information about medical equipment operation.
  • Post-visit information and follow-ups. Professionals print unique QR codes at the end of each visit with a patient’s specific follow-up information, dosage, next steps, and future appointments.

QR Code Uses In Libraries

QR code use in libraries has taken off in recent years. Well, QR code use everywhere is taking off. But libraries don’t often come to mind when one thinks of cleverly embracing newer technology. They should, though! Because they do embrace it. Here’s how.

Some libraries print QR codes on their bookmarks with library information, hours of operation, and research assistance suggestions. Other libraries will use QR codes on their websites that direct you to a place where you can download their mobile app. 

But the most impressive is what Contra Costa County Library does in California. They partnered with their local public transit company and placed their QR codes in buses. Upon scanning those QR codes, library card holders can choose from hundreds of free audiobook titles to listen to on their ride. It’s a QR-based mobile library service. Now that is a clever use of QR codes, right there. Tip of the hat to CCCL.

Basic Contact, Personal, and Operational Information

This is the most wide-ranging use case of QR codes. Literally any person, business, or organization can create a QR code with basic operational or contact information on it.

It can be personal contact information from a QR code printed on a business card or in an email signature. It can be hours of operation for any business from a QR code placed on websites, doors, and windows. It can be rules and procedures for campsites, hotels, or tours. It can be exhibit schedules for museums, or holidays closed for banks.

The options are almost limitless. And the content doesn't have to be complicated. It can be as simple as using a QR code generator PDF file.

Customer Feedback

It’s been known for a while in marketing that distributing surveys digitally gets a great response. Those distribution methods are mostly text message and email follow-ups after a product is sent or a service provided. But QR codes are also an option.

A business can set up a survey on a website like SurveyMonkey.com, then encode a link to QR code access of the survey. They’ll strategically place that QR code where someone would encounter it immediately after receiving a product or service. A brick-and-mortar business, for example, could print out the QR survey codes on a receipt. A hotel could send the QR codes out in the follow-up email after a guest’s stay has ended. A subscription service could put the QR code on its packaging, too.

QR codes are a more effective way to get your survey in front of customers because they’re more agile than emails and texts. If you get the placement right, you’ll have your survey in front of someone at the exact right moment. That means conversion, that means feedback, and that means reacting. That’s how businesses grow.

QR Code Marketing

Any business can benefit from QR code marketing. It is, in fact, one of the most common QR code uses out there. The idea behind using QR codes for marketing is that QR codes are small, portable, inexpensive, and accessible. All that coupled with the fact that a QR code can communicate anything you want, and it’s an infinitely valuable marketing tool.

A strategically-placed QR code—in an easy-to-understand QR code template—can inform customers of specials, deals, discounts and events. They can quickly and easily provide information about any product or service. And they can be placed anywhere: windows, doors, billboards, magazine pages, receipts, emails, business cards, packaging, glassware, you name it. If you have something you want to share with people, publish it on a mobile-optimized website. Then encode that URL in a QR code and start sticking it everywhere. And, impressively, dynamic QR codes can also be used for QR code tracking. So you can monitor scans and usage to make sure your QR codes are hitting the right note and driving engagement.

Concerned that some of the folks you target may not be totally familiar with QR codes? We’ve got a printable graphic on how to scan QR codes, along with how to run a QR code test.

Creative QR Codes Uses

Like we said earlier, QR codes can be placed anywhere and communicate anything. Their versatility makes their most clever uses quite entertaining case studies. Here are some of the most creative QR code uses we’ve found so far.

  • Edible QR codes on food. San Diego’s Harney Sushi makes use of edible QR codes on rice paper that point to sustainability initiatives within the seafood industry.
  • Medicine. Yes, actual medicine. This is a take on the above edible QR code, but for a much more noble purpose. In 2018, Danish researchers developed a method to print ingestible medical drugs in QR patterns on edible material. Scanning the QR code confirms the drug and the dose, lessening the risks of wrong medication, fake medication, and overdoses.
  • Within video games. 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, QR codes can be used to import user generated designs into the game.
  • On clothing and wearables. Some consumers may hesitate to be such a walking advertisement, but QR codes on articles of clothing, jewelry, and accessories attract a lot of attention. What particularly clever QR code use we read about is QR codes printed on the bottom of flip flops which leave an imprint of the QR code in the sand.
  • Self-guided tours. Think of outdoor tours that use QR codes at designated trail locations or indoor tours that use QR codes at periodically placed plaques.

QR Code Uses: Where Are QR Codes Used?

So many places. And QR code uses in everyday life are almost limitless. QR codes are one of the most versatile, accessible tools that the widespread use of smartphones has ushered in.

That’s because their use cases are numerous and QR code risks are slight. And the ways people use QR codes is growing. The only thing stopping it is creativity, of which humans have limitless supply.

The reason QR codes—especially dynamic QR codes—are so useful is because all they do is redirect folks to a mobile-optimized landing page. If you can publish a mobile-optimized webpage, then access to any information on it is easy via QR code.

So, QR codes are easy. Learning how to make a QR code is easy. Troubleshooting them is easy, too. See our how to check if a QR code works post. But consistently publishing responsive, lightweight websites for QR codes to redirect to is harder. That’s why we simplify it. Using our QR code menu tool, all a bar, restaurant, or hotel needs to do is upload a spreadsheet of menu information. It comes out on the other end as a fully-optimized, pre-templated, customized website with its own unique QR code. Like we said, easy.