Voice of the Industry

Quick Response: pandemic highlights opportunities for technology to grow in Western markets

Friday 1 October 2021 08:56 CET | Editor: Raluca Constantinescu | Voice of the industry

Ryan Tuttle, Consumer Finance Consultant at Euromonitor International: 'QR codes quickly found their way into new applications, such as restaurant menus, and are positioned for major growth as commerce grapples with a new paradigm moving forward.'

QR codes – much ballyhooed, then much maligned – are back, and this time they appear to have staying power. For much of the past decade, technology has played a pivotal role in catapulting digital payments in parts of Asia, most notably China. As the rest of the world looks to rebound from a crippling pandemic, inroads made by QR codes in 2020 are poised to shift a number of consumer touchpoints for brands and businesses alike. 

Nearly three decades old, the Quick Response (QR) code has been utilised for any number of applications over the years. It entered many Western markets in the 2000s as a much-hyped opportunity for digital interfacing – but may have been a bit ahead of consumer sentiment at the time. Many phones required third-party apps to decode QR codes, and interfaces were often clunky and challenging to use. As smartphones became a ubiquitous component of life across much of the globe, QR codes have played a significant role in the Chinese payments market through popular super apps like Alipay and WeChat Pay. Markets without significant POS infrastructure have benefitted greatly from the ability to quickly generate new codes and link both merchants and consumers to a payment system. 

QR codes: from the 1990s to COVID-19 

The past few years have not been short on stories of the QR revolutionisation of commerce in Asia, but Western companies have started to make QR inroads as well. In particular, the decision by Apple in 2017 to bring native QR support to its built-in camera app will likely be remembered as a turning point for QR use outside of Asia. 

Further, although the 2020s have kicked off to an inauspicious start for many businesses, QR codes are finding their way into an increasing number of fintech platforms such as PayPal, Revolut, and Facebook Pay. 

Social distancing and public health concerns have opened a tremendous window of opportunity for contact-free payment methods such as QR. The onset of the pandemic has perhaps most dramatically impacted small businesses and brands, which were forced to adopt a variety of digital innovations en masse in order to survive in a distanced environment. QR codes quickly found their way into new applications, such as restaurant menus, and are positioned for major growth as commerce grapples with a new paradigm moving forward. 

Direct payments applications 

Direct payment and commerce opportunities for QR codes are numerous. Many of the first payment applications for QR codes have arisen in the form of P2P payments, enabling users to quickly exchange their account information via code. Venmo, for example, offers personal QR codes that can be shared to find user info. POS QR code usage has been sporadic in Western nations historically, often relegated to loyalty programme information and a select few payment providers. The unparalleled success of QR for POS payments in Asia, however, has opened the door for growth beyond the region. Announcements continue with great frequency of new companies launching QR acceptance solutions or payment options for customers. 

Beyond conventional P2P and POS applications, QR codes offer significant potential for easing pain points in a number of payment processes. One such application is in-seat payments at sporting and entertainment venues – bypassing the need to pass cash down the row. Other potential applications include payment via a QR code located on a table and more outside the box examples – such as the one of a restaurant in China which allows customers to tip waitstaff via QR buttons affixed to their person. 

Indirect payments and experience enhancement 

Looking beyond direct payment applications, there are a significant number of intriguing opportunities for indirect payment methods and the use of QR codes to enhance customer experience and brand engagement. Below is a list of some of the innovative uses and proposed uses for QR codes for brands and retailers: 

  • expanding QR code menus to include an ordering and payment component; 

  • seatback QR codes in-flight and in entertainment/sporting venues to preorder food or food for in-seat delivery; 

  • attraction information and maps at venues such as zoos and parks that can provide information via QR codes – adding payment for venue services to the pages as well; 

  • adding QR codes to advertisements and products that allow interaction with the brand; 

  • charitable applications – church offerings, donations, assistance for the homeless. 

QR in the future 

QR codes hold great potential in the near term. A number of governments are exploring or already implementing national QR code standards, providing additional legitimacy to the technology. Additionally, QR codes require very little infrastructure or investment on the part of merchants, making them particularly well-suited for both new merchants, retrofitting existing merchants, as well as populations with more nascent payments systems. 

As governments launch new real-time payments systems and a significant number of new businesses are launched to fill the gaps of those that went under during the pandemic, QR codes will see additional opportunity for innovation and application. Perhaps it isn’t too farfetched to see enterprising companies look to leverage the meme economy and ‘stonks’ trends to add QR codes in partnership with retail investor fintechs – redirecting consumers to invest in their favourite products and brands. QR codes for brands and retailers will break down into two main avenues moving forward: practical payments applications and opportunities for deepened brand engagement and value add to consumer experiences. 

This article is part of the Payment Methods Report 2021 – Latest Trends in Payment Preferences, a comprehensive overview of the payment methods in scope for 2021, as well as best practices for checkout optimisation and customer conversion by addressing digital transformation, security, and localisation.

About Ryan Tuttle 

Ryan Tuttle is a Consumer Finance Consultant at Euromonitor International. His work at Euromonitor focuses on global trends and developments in cards, payments, and lending. He has spoken at several industry conferences in recent years, including the Bank Customer Experience Summit in Chicago and the Payments Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. 


About Euromonitor International 

Euromonitor International is the world’s leading provider for global business intelligence, market analysis, and consumer insights. Our research solutions support decisions on how, where, and when to grow your business. With offices around the world, analysts in over 100 countries, the latest data science techniques and market research on every key trend and driver, we help you make sense of global markets.


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Keywords: QR code, QR payments, POS, P2P payments, COVID-19
Categories: Payments & Commerce | Mobile Payments
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Payments & Commerce