QR Codes invading – even if you don’t know it

A funeral director in Gauteng uses it to help mourners find the right funeral; a shopping mall in Cape Town employs it to help shoppers build wish lists for gifts; and across the country, it’s beginning to appear on business cards.

Its called a QR Code, which stands for Quick Response Code, but most people will know it as a square, barcode-like pattern seen at points of sale or in apps like  BlackBerry Messenger. The latter represented many South Africans’ first exposure to QR Codes, when it became the quickest way to add a friend on BBM.

The upcoming release of the Online Retail in South Africa 2015 study by World Wide Worx will shed light on the take-up of QR Codes, providing the first insight into one of the most mysterious emerging area of ecommerce: the QR Code.

In the past year, QR Codes have quietly gained new life as mobile apps like SnapScan roped it in for payments at small merchants, flea markets and the like.

By the end of 2014, more than 2.1-million South Africans were using QR Codes, even as a debate raged around the question, “Are QR Codes dead?” Of these, 1.1-million were male, with female users only marginally behind, at 1.04-million.


Mobile payment systems are quickly becoming mainstream, and it will be fascinating to see how the more mechanical systems like QR Codes compete. Ideally, there should be room for any system, with each one finding its ideal niche. But there are no certainties in a sector that is moving so fast.

One aspect of QR Codes that is achieving consensus is where it does NOT work. Billboards along a highway probably represent the single most bizarre category of QR Codes. They carry the assumption that motorists will activate a QR Code app on their phones, focus on the billboard and follow the relevant link that is opened, all in the time it takes to drive past the billboard.

Better examples abound. In the US, Wal-Mart uses it in store to guide shoppers to virtual “pop-up stores” that exist for a specific promotion. In Germany, bus passengers use them to simplify route planning. In the United Kingdom, supermarkets use it to provide additional nutritional information on food – including an edible QR Code used on rice paper. 

QR Code usage is strongly age-related, with 673 000 users in the peak age group of 25-34. In contrast, the 15-24 segment amounts to only 471 000, while 494 000 are aged from 35 to 44. A similar amount – 425 000 – makes up the 45-65 age group. Usage drops significantly with retirement age: the 65+ age group comprises 88 000 users.

A detailed breakdown of QR Code usage and demographics will be included in Online Retail in South Africa 2015.

The report is based on primary research by technology market research leaders World Wide Worx, as well as collaboration with Ask Afrika, the leading market research organisation on the continent. Data from Ask Afrika’s Target Group Index (TGI), a research project with a sample of more than 15 000 respondents annually, will provide demographic and behavioural components of the report.

“TGI is a single-source database that provides brand and product consumption trends for South African consumers, coupled with detail around spending and retail shopping habits of South Africans that can be tracked over time,” says Andrea Rademeyer, chief executive and founder of Ask Afrika. “It allows us to build benchmarks and currency data which are both reliable and up-to-date.”

World Wide Worx is partnering with Ask Afrika to refine the communications, electronics and technology elements of TGI, in order to produce the most detailed picture yet of the digital habits of South Africans. The TGI research is conducted in two six-month “waves” every year, with a nationally representative sample of more than 7 500 respondents in each wave.

The resultant data will be included in World Wide Worx’s annual reports on Internet Access, Online Retail, Social Media and Online Banking in South Africa, among other. World Wide Worx will also collaborate with Ask Africa on a Digital Barometer, to provide a clear understanding of the digital evolution of the South African consumer. 

  • Online Retail in South Africa 2015 will be released in June 2015.
  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

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