Are QR Codes More Popular in Europe than in the U.S.? (Part 1)

Other Posts
Nov 12, 2009

During a recent InfoTrends Webinar on the future of the global print production software market, Alex Sumarta and I were asked if quick response (QR) codes are more popular in Europe than they are in the United States. QR codes–those 2D barcodes that can be scanned by Internet-enabled camera phones–help connect the physical and virtual worlds and can tremendously increase the effectiveness of one-to-one communications.

Based on anecdotal information, I would say that QR codes in Europe are a bit ahead of those in the U.S., but they are not as advanced as those in Japan. I recently stumbled upon some interesting research that would support this claim.

This blog post will focus on a few examples of QR adoption in Europe, and a blog that will be issued next week will provide some additional thoughts and data points concerning adoption.

QR Codes across Europe

This year, we’ve seen quite a bit of activity relating to QR codes in Europe, particularly in the U.K., the Nordic countries, and Italy. In the U.K., retail giant Marks & Spencers has put QR codes on its “Food-to-go” juice bottles to test drive QR technology. Click here to see how it works on an iPhone. The QR code on the juice bottle links to a microsite where readers can obtain a voucher code, which can be claimed against a future purchase.

A similar campaign has been launched in Italy, where dairy producer Latterie Friulane put QR codes on milk bottles to link to a prize drawing. Other QR-enabled advertising campaigns in the U.K. have come from Pepsi (on its cans), Volvo (to promote a sailing event), and the BBC.

QR codes are also emerging in the newspaper industry. La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy’s premier sports newspaper, features QR codes in its newspapers. These codes are linked to video clips showing match highlights. Similar QR applications can be found in tabloids from Germany, Sweden, and the U.K. as well as a Swiss financial newspaper. This newspaper prints 2D barcodes that point readers to the latest stock quotes and financial information.

Nevertheless, I expect the greatest amount of traction to occur in the travel industry, and I would not be surprised if this industry pushes 2D barcodes to the masses. Air France KLM, BMI, Lufthansa, SAS, and Spanair are just a few examples of European airliners that currently offer mobile boarding passes to their customers. After a traveler checks in, a 2D barcode image is sent to his/her mobile device. This image then acts as the boarding pass from that point on.

By 2010, every airport in the world should be able to process bar-coded boarding passes at the gate rather than relying on magnetic stripe boarding passes. As a result, more airliners are likely to begin offering mobile boarding passes in the very near future. In addition to the airline industry, this principle also works on trains. Many European rail operators are currently issuing 2D bar-coded tickets that can be printed at home. Deploying these tickets on a mobile phone would only require a small additional step and would save commuters valuable time on purchasing tickets, especially when there are long queues in busy stations.

Although the travel industry is using mobile devices as display units instead of scanners, it is my conviction that this will drive the awareness and adoption of 2D barcodes, such as QR codes. Commuters have time to engage with online content, which is why Danish Rail started a campaing last month that features 2D barcodes on window-stickers and posters to offer travel updates, news, and other 3rd party content to their customers.

2D Barcodes as Social Media Tagging Artifact

The most intriguing application of 2D barcodes that I have come across is from the fashion industry. France-based Denim Code puts 2D barcodes on the back of jeans. The owner of the jeans is left in charge of the URL to which the code links–this could be a personal Facebook site, a Twitter profile, or whatever the consumer chooses. While this is surely not going to become a mainstream application (especially considering the location of the barcode!), having codes inside garments can spark innovative ideas as this fictitious movie demonstrates.

There are many opportunities surrounding QR codes. Although some of these opportunities are more promising than others, adoption will ultimately depend on the number of people that have Internet-enabled camera phones. It turns out that Europe accounts for 7 of the top 10 countries in terms of 3G adoption, so please stay tuned next week for the second part of this series on QR codes.

Receive a weekly summary of recent blogs and other exclusive content.

InfoTrends Resources

New InfoTrends Studies

More blogs from

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux