SAN FRANCISCO—In the past 18 months, QR codes have become a permanent mobile and contactless feature, with more restaurants and retailers using them at checkout, to access menus and on retail packaging, direct mail, billboards and TV advertisements, reports The New York Times.
QR codes provide businesses tools for tracking, targeting and analytics, but some experts say the technology can store digital information such as when, where and how often a scan occurs. The codes open an app or a website that tracks a user’s personal information, and have allowed restaurants to build a database of their customers’ order histories and contact information—a growing privacy concern among some users.
“[W]hen you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times. “Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire.”
During the pandemic, half of all full-service restaurant operators in the United States have been using QR codes for customers to access menus online, according to the National Restaurant Association. PayPal introduced QR code payments and has since added them at CVS, Nike and about one million small businesses. Square, a digital payments firm, rolled out a QR code ordering system in September.
Businesses don’t want to give up the benefits that QR code, said Sharat Potharaju, the chief executive of the digital marketing company MobStac. Deals and special offers can be bundled with QR code systems, he said. Plus, businesses can gather data on consumer spending through QR codes.
“With traditional media, like a billboard or TV, you can estimate how many people may have seen it, but you don’t know how people actually interacted with it,” said Sarah Cucchiara, senior vice president at BrandMuscle, a marketing firm that introduced a QR code menu product last year. “With QR codes, we can get reporting on those scans.”
To learn more about some of the ways QR codes are being used in the convenience industry, read “Code Switch” and “What’s Next for Mobile Pay” in NACS Magazine.