A few years ago QR codes were considered “the next big thing” for business and they were here to stay, but it seemed just as quickly their popularity reached a plateau and a lot of people began to move on to the “next big thing”. If this were the case then why are so many major corporations like Walmart and SnapChat still using QR codes for their business? Is there something small businesses are missing that these huge corporations aren’t telling us?

For those of you who are not familiar with QR codes they are a small square consisting of a combination of smaller black and white squares that are used for storing information and URLs to a smart phone using the phone’s camera. To use a QR code you would download a QR code scanning app that when you take a picture of the black and white square it will open a website or save contact information to your phone. QR codes are easy to get and can be another way to promote your business on your printed marketing materials like business cards, fliers, brochures, signs and many more. You can even generate a personal QR code for your business in seconds for free. (Click here to generate your own QR code.)

If QR codes are so easy to use how come does it seem like they are out of style? In 2012 and 2013 QR codes were mostly used for redirecting people towards websites, although it worked this was not a “difficult problem” to solve for the consumer and most people would just type in the URL into their phone instead of opening an app and taking a picture. It was not a fix to a problem but another way of going about looking up a website. For this reason it started to lose interest before people even knew what it was and so the general population never really took on to the concept.

Even though QR codes began to lose interest it still had potential. People began to develop new ways to use QR codes. Instead of directing users to websites, businesses have now begun to direct their QR codes instead to online coupons, downloading apps, accessing product information and creating a better and easier user experience. The platform of the QR code has changed and they are now starting to solve problems rather than being another way to get information.

The New & Improved QR Codes:

Supermarkets & Groceries Stores:
For supermarkets like Walmart they are using QR codes to be placed on their customer’s receipts to promote their Savings Catcher App that will help give people e-gift cards when they find lower prices on items they sold you from other stores. Simply snap a photo of your receipt’s QR code and their app will categorize all the items you just bought into a digital receipt. In Korea the global supermarket Tesco created a virtual store for it’s time-strapped consumers who can shop the supermarket’s shelves for QR codes on products and add them to their virtual shopping cart. The consumer’s groceries would then be delivered to their home without even entering the store.

Museums & Zoos:
Last week I was visiting the Como Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota and found that they were using QR codes to help enhance the user experience. Their QR codes would direct visitors to audio tours that they can now listen to on their smart phone. Many other art galleries, museums and zoos are using QR codes to help provide more in-depth information and help educate their guests during their visit.

Food & Drink:
Ever wanted to remember that name of a bottle of wine you had at the restaurant but forgot the name or to write it down? Bottling companies are using QR codes on their labels to give their consumers more information about the vineyards the wine comes from, what grapes are in it, what types of cheese pair well and ordering details. Taco Bell and Mountain Dew used QR codes on drink cups for customers to scan to get free music downloads. Their partnered campaign reached 200,000 downloads.

These are some of the ways big companies are using QR codes, but what can small businesses do to use QR codes to their advantage?

Discounts & Freebies:
One way your business can use QR codes is by creating a online coupon that can give your customers a small free gift or give them 10% off their purchases in your store. You can do this by creating a link to a coupon through your website or go through a third party website to generate your coupon offer.

Google sends out QR code window decals to top local businesses with Google Place Pages. These QR code Decals tell customers you are a “Favorite Place on Google” where passersby can scan to find information about your business, read reviews and star your business as their favorite. You can also use a QR code to generate Foursquare check-ins, and also point scanners to your Yelp profile.

If you have a video that explains your business’s mission or what you do as a company but no one is really watching it you can easily direct your customers to it by streamlining the process by having them scan a QR code. You can also have a QR code printed on your product packaging that will link to your how-to video explaining your product and how it works.

These are only a few new ways people are using QR codes in their businesses. Although it seemed like QR codes were disappearing people are beginning to use them more frequently to make better-informed purchasing decisions. If you decide to use QR codes again for your business think about possible ways you yourself would use a QR code and where you will use it. If you have used them in the past but weren’t satisfied with the results think about ways you would improve your delivery to your customers. A possible issue could have been that your customers were never really educated on what a QR code is and how to use it. Whether you decided to use a QR code or not always make sure you can create a positive user experience for your customers and help them to make more informed purchasing decisions.