Sharat Potharaju is cofounder and CEO of Mobstac, a QR code and mobile marketing company.
The last two years have been something of a renaissance for QR codes in the United States. Brands across industries were forced to embrace them to deliver products and services in contact-free ways.
Now that they’re more commonplace, it’s time for brands to implement them more strategically, to not only enable new functionality but also improve customer experience. As CEO of MobStac, which helps companies improve customer relationships by delivering impactful content in various phygital formats—including QR codes—I’ve been helping thousands of companies do exactly that since 2009.
Increasingly, we’re seeing brands pay attention to how improving accessibility across touchpoints can make for a better overall customer experience. Here are four ways brands can leverage QR codes to boost their accessibility:
1. Offer alternative payment methods.
Contactless payment methods offer a clear benefit in pandemic times: safer transactions that are less likely to spread germs. Indeed, contactless payments grew by 34% in 2020. Crucially, consumers can fund digital wallet accounts without a traditional bank account or debit card, making them more accessible to the unbanked and underbanked—about a third of the U.S. population.
QR codes are among the simplest ways for sellers to set up contactless payments and make them available to more consumers. To accept payments through QR codes, merchants can partner with a QR code provider that can help them generate payment codes. (Disclosure: My company can help with this.) Those codes can work with a variety of digital wallet providers, including those connected to devices and services like PayPal. This means digital payments are available to any customer with a smartphone.
2. Empower consumers to access content on their terms.
Being in public is difficult for many people, especially during a pandemic. But even in the absence of a large-scale public health crisis, some people, such as those with ADHD, anxiety or autism, may get easily overwhelmed or distracted in public places, meaning they’re not likely to engage with marketing or advertising content—even if it piques their interest. As of February 2021, almost 42% of Americans experienced recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder, and about 2% of American adults have an autism spectrum disorder.
For those who want to engage with a brand in a more private setting, QR codes can help. Scanning a QR code—which takes just seconds—means customers get instant access to deeper information about a product, brand or event that they can engage with when they’re most comfortable doing so.
For brands already using QR codes, this probably isn’t a new use case, even if you haven’t thought about its functionality in these terms. Making it possible for your customers to get the information they want when they want it is one way you can deliver a pleasant, rewarding experience.
3. Provide content in customers’ preferred language.
One lesser-known function of QR codes is that they can direct customers to content in their preferred language, as determined by the settings on their device.
I think multilingual QR codes are a huge opportunity for American brands to differentiate, given that 67.3 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, as of 2018. Admittedly, creating content in multiple languages is labor intensive, but making this investment can create the kind of experience that contributes to brand affinity and loyalty.
4. Simplify and facilitate common interactions.
At a nearby specialty grocer, I recently heard someone say, “I want to sign up for a loyalty card, but I don’t want to hold up the line.”
Many brands offer great benefits through their loyalty cards—and loyalty programs increase profits. Brands should do everything in their power to make them easy to sign up for—not just for those unwilling to hold up the line, but also for parents of young children, folks who get overwhelmed in public and anyone who might otherwise need to get home as fast as possible.
A simple scan of a QR code can trigger common brand interactions like signing up for a loyalty card or writing a review, making them simpler, less time-consuming and available anywhere—and therefore more accessible.
The best practices for using QR codes to boost accessibility don’t differ that much from best practices for using QR codes generally.
• Follow visual accessibility guidelines for color contrast. There are slightly different considerations for printed materials versus those that will appear on screens.
• Size your QR code appropriately. Consider how far users will be from the QR code when they scan it. The farther away, the larger your code should be.
• Include clear call-to-action (CTA) language. Always indicate where a QR code will take someone if they choose to scan. If you’re using a multilingual QR code, include the CTA in each language you offer content in.
• Measure results. QR codes should drive people to your digital properties. If they’re not doing that, you need to change something about them: placement, design, CTA language, etc.
Conversion metrics can tell you how well your QR code is working, but they won’t tell you how to improve it. To get that information, consider user testing your designs with people from the groups you’re hoping to connect with. These user groups can provide feedback about what is and isn’t working, which you can use to improve your design.
Accessibility is a key part of excellent customer experiences.
It’s worth saying that no brand’s accessibility efforts should start and end with QR codes. But I believe this technology does have a role to play within an enterprise’s larger strategy for ensuring accessibility across its physical and digital properties.
That strategy will likely be of growing importance in the years to come. As consumers increasingly expect personalized experiences from the brands that have access to their data, finding ways to deliver goods and services in formats that meet varied needs will be crucial to brands’ survival.
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