QR Codes, We Hardly Knew Ye

April 6, 2011

By Meredith Schwartz

According to Business Insider, Google is killing off the QR code by phasing out support for them from its Google Places

QR CodeThis QR code would take the scanner to giftsanddec.com

That must be news to a lot of people who weren't even sure what they were yet.

If you're one of those folks, they're those square thingies that look sort of like what might result if a bar code and TV "snow" had a baby. The QR stands for Quick Response, and the point is that consumers scan them with their smart phones to get more information on whatever the code adorns. They are used on fliers and business cards, store windows and in-store signage - even museums - for consumers to get more information on demand.

The replacement is another bit of alphabet soup, NFC - or near-field communication - chips. The idea is to eliminate the scanning step - you just hold your phone up near a sign with an NFC chip and get the same results. Google is sending out window decals with NFC chips in them instead - at least in Portland. (What you do if you use Places anyplace else in the U.S. is a little unclear, since the QR codes are already history.)

The problem for indie shops is that it is super easy and cheap for anyone to create a QR code using a free generator like Kaywa or Qurify. You can customize the accessed information to say anything you want for no more than the cost of printing it out.

Whereas NFC requires a chip and somebody to embed it in the poster/card/decal/etc. And loading the data onto the chip by hand doesn't sound like your average gift retailer's cup of tea, either. Suppliers like this one will take care of it for you, and perhaps as NFC gains ground, more simplifying services will step up. But it sure doesn't compare in ease, cost and turnaround time to a page of ordinary printer paper.

If consumer habits and expectations follow Google, a tool with great potential for indies will be replaced by one that benefits Big Boxes, or anyone else looking to buy in quantity and control what's said. That would be a shame, because "everything is the same everywhere" is a message the average American shopper doesn't need to scan - they're already hearing it loud and clear.