Origin of QR codes and why they’re on the rise


Picture this: you pick up a hair shampoo’s trial pack at the supermarket and towards the end of using it, you love the effect it has on your hair health and quality. You find a customized QR code on it that allows you to re-order a 500ml bottle of the hair shampoo from their e-stores. That’s how seamless an offline to online experience becomes with a QR Code. 

You’re probably wondering now what the fuss is all about. QR code? But how…wait, are they even important? Well, first you need to know the basics. A Quick Response (QR code) is a two-dimensional encoded image, like a barcode, typically made of varying black and white squares. By scanning this code, you receive hidden information that’s stored on it, allowing you to partake in specific actions, etc. 

QR codes have been around for decades but the recent years have seen a resurgence in their applications and acceptance. Originally, QR codes were invented in 1994 by a Toyota subsidiary named Denso Wave. The QR code was created to improve the manufacturing process of vehicles and parts. Barcode technology was significantly improved once QR codes were used as it increased barcode functionality, storage, and accuracy. In comparison to traditional one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes hold 300 times more data using the same amount of space. 

Naturally, with time, businesses, especially marketers saw the potential of QR codes and quickly jumped on the opportunity to implement them in various industries. But, ten years ago, QR codes were before their time. Smartphones weren’t a global phenomenon; most people couldn’t afford them. Apps weren’t invented to scan QR codes and WiFi wasn’t easily accessible. In other words, QR codes were promising to a marketer but the consumers were not welcoming to the acceptance of the technology. That was the state of QR codes, a decade ago. If you were to ask industries about QR codes today, their opinions are drastically different. 

Today in 2019, over 5 billion people have mobile devices, with half of them being smartphones. By 2020, 90% of the world’s population will have access to high-speed mobile internet. Our access to global information and the ability to communicate is unprecedented. Plus, most smartphones like iPhone, Samsung, and Motorola come with an in-built QR code scanner. And with all these components, it means one thing: QR codes are making a global comeback. 


Naturally, the average person doesn’t see the value in QR codes; it’s not something they think about. But, they’re an everyday necessity. Apps such as Pinterest, Snapchat, Chrome, Paytm, Google Pay and Whatsapp are all reliant on QR codes. Back in 2002, QR codes became a hit in Japan, as they were used to share information. But this is a child’s play in comparison to the true capabilities of QR codes, and we’re seeing it now in China.  

China currently has the world’s largest and fastest-growing market for mobile payments. From paying for meals to clothing to groceries, most transactions are happening through QR code scanning. A customer can scan a merchandise’s QR code or have the merchant scan the customer’s code with their mobile device and make a contactless payment. Assessments by iResearch found that mobile device payments by Chinese consumers reached 38 trillion yuan (the US $5.5 trillion), which makes up more than half the nation’s GDP in 2016. 

Through the rise of QR code payments, it’s changing the face of China’s social behavior. There’s an increase in shopping off-line, and consumers from both big cities and remote villages can make QR code purchases. 

Chen, a professor, and researcher with the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing states said, “China has started the transition to a cash-free economy faster than anyone could have imagined, largely because of the viral spread of two-dimensional barcode. It creates a new economy based on scannable codes.” 

Through QR codes, it’s made it easier for people to spend money and increase consumption. But, apart from that, it’s also expanded the idea of a sharing economy. To rent a public e-scooter or e-bike, you only need your QR code. And this is only the beginning. Beggars in China are becoming innovative by using QR codes for donations, as well, as charitable organizations.

The wave has not left the United States untouched. The U.S. has not yet accepted QR codes as a payment channel but is increasingly using it for marketing, advertising and boosting customer experience at offline locations. 

Naturally, with technology comes its fair share of security risks; however, Chinese regulators are taking proactive steps to ensure market regulation and security threats. By reducing security risks, QR codes can become a leading payment method throughout China, making it more secure than carrying cash or credit cards. 

We’re already going digital, yet haven’t fully bridged the physical and virtual worlds together, which is what China and other fast-growing countries like India, the United States and Australia are trying to accomplish.

According to the Global Payments Report, e-wallets will become a prime global payment method with a rate of 46% by 2021. It’s unavoidable. With time and through China’s example, more and more countries will implement QR code payments into their payment systems. A new era is here, and whether you like it or not, it’s going virtual.