There are clear differences between a QR code and a barcode that make both appealing, but they sometimes work together for brick-and-mortar applications. Unlike 2D QR codes, barcodes are one-dimensional (1D), meaning they store information in parallel lines and spaces. This limits the amount of code they can hold (20–25 characters) curbing efficiency for scanning in bulk.
QR codes may have been invented as a more efficient alternative to barcodes, but for small businesses, tech that isn’t complex still has its place. Some business owners prefer barcodes over QR codes, especially for products that don’t require data collection. Barcodes are cost-effective, readily available and require few equipment updates.
There are also ways to combine QR codes and barcodes to provide more data to the customer and enable better tracking behind the scenes. Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn, added an extra layer of transparency to their customer’s shopping experience. In addition to the barcode scanned at purchase, QR stickers were added to some of their products allowing shoppers to scan product codes, giving Albert Heijn visibility into their production chain.
And it wasn’t until the 2010s that QR codes had a brief heyday in consumer-facing ways—especially in the advertising industry when QR utilization became front and center in magazine ads, subway terminals and billboards. The exact reason for the sudden rise in QR code use within the advertising industry is about as unclear as the descent.
Trying to explain the spike, Bloomberg suggests it could have been due to the fact that including a QR code on an ad gave “the appearance of being tech-savvy.” They also point to something similar about today’s use of QR codes: Advertisers wanted another way to connect with consumers on a digital plane. At what point, then, did they lose favor?