QR Codes can be valuable tools for small businesses

If you’re not familiar with QR, or Quick Response, codes, you probably should be. These two-dimensional matrix barcodes can hold thousands of alphanumeric characters of information that, if used effectively, can help grow your business.

Domestically, QR codes are just beginning to catch on, but they were invented in Japan in 1994.

The codes were developed to track auto parts by a subsidiary of Toyota and slipped into mainstream use there, says Steve Sevell, owner and principal of Sevell+Sevell, a web design and marketing firm.

“It was introduced late because of multiple QR code patents that were filed many years ago only in the U.S.,” says Andi Sie, co-founder of eEvent Inc., a technology-based company that helps businesses, organizations, and individuals plan and promote events. “They were finally reversed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in mid-2008.”

Readable with an iPhone, Android, or another camera-enabled smartphone, QR codes are being put to use in a variety of industries. In fact, Sevell suspects they will be as popular for the business world as social media has been for consumers in a very short amount of time.

“For marketers of any kind −clothing, restaurants, anything− QR codes turn a newspaper or a magazine ad into a point of sale promotion,” he says. “If someone is looking at a print ad in their doctor’s office, they can buy, say, a sweater from wherever they are.”

Shanna Lafontaine, a Realtor at RE/MAX Affiliates Inc. who specializes in residential real estate throughout Central Ohio, uses QR codes to market properties.

“I have started using them on sign riders to point to my listing’s personal website,” she says. “This is a smartphone-formatted website that allows a consumer to look at pictures, price, and details on the home without having to look it up on another website and without me having to leave info sheets in a box on the sign.”

Lafontaine is mindful about where she uses QR codes, though.

“I think similar to the increase in mobile usage and browsing that the stats will show the under 40 crowd is driving the interest/demand,” she says. “With this in mind, I don’t put QR codes on all my listings. I started using them on listings that I see the target market to be generally technology-friendly and early adopters, meaning downtown Columbus, certain condos and homes in the first-time homebuyer price range. I have a freestanding condo coming available on Monday the ninth that is in Harrison West− exactly the type of home where I feel having a QR code will generate traffic and interest because of the demographic of the buyers in the area.”

QR codes also can be used for tasks unrelated to sales. For instance, eEvent uses QR codes for event promotion, ticketing/check-in, and personal identification.

“eEvent takes advantage of QR Code as a unique scanable code, for each event created at eEvent.com, that can be placed and posted on printed materials as well as digital materials,” Sie says. “Event goers find the event page, register, and buy a ticket.”

QR Code is one of the options event organizers have to identify guests while they check in to any event created at eEvent by scanning the codes that appear on their ticket, he says. Plus, eEvent automatically assigns a QR Code to each member profile as a his or her unique ID.

Similarly, Sevell says a client of his used QR code to allow people to sign up for an open house.

“We designed the invitation, which had place for a personalized QR code similar to a personalized URL,” he says. So each of the 300 or so invites had a unique QR code. This took each guest to a different landing page on a website so they could RSVP. The viewer was taken to a simple form that is easily filled out on their phones.”

As Lafontaine, Sie, and Sevell have indicated, QR code can be quite helpful. However, just because they (or their clients) have given it a go doesn’t mean you should.

“As Internet technology advances very quickly, my suggestion is for business owners to be open-minded, to explore new things and use only what’s beneficial for their business,” Sie says. “It does not mean that business owners always have to use the newest or coolest tool available out there.”

Implement QR code in the smallest way possible and see if it optimally benefits your business in any way, he adds.

Photo by Adam Slane Photography.