The future of QR code labels

A market review

A report published by Future Market Insights (FMI) early in 2019 predicts a shift away from one dimensional (1D) barcode labels to two dimensional (2D) codes, specifically QR code labels, in the next eight to ten years. It goes on to say that whilst the food, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors are starting to adopt QR code labelling already, many other sectors will follow suit.

Advantages of QR codes over 1D barcodes

The two key advantages of 2D barcodes over the 1D codes most often cited are greater capacity for data storage and ease of scanning from any angle.

Since QR codes contain data that can be read by a mobile device, technology readily available to consumers, it’s not surprising that their upsurge has followed the same trajectory as the growth in smartphone ownership. As you might surmise, one of the first sectors to really welcome QR codes was the marketing promotions sector; particularly those companies involved in business to consumer (B2C) marketing activity.

The FMI report goes on to say that another benefit of QR code labels over conventional barcodes is that they can reportedly tolerate damage up to 30% and still perform. QR codes can therefore be used in dirty, greasy and difficult industrial settings where barcodes would be unreliable. The report indicates a rise in the use of QR code labels in the fish processing industry where conditions are wet, making the application of adhesive labels notoriously difficult.

What is likely to lead the shift?

FMI’s report suggests that the growth in product counterfeiting and the need for brand and consumer protection is likely to lead a further shift away from conventional barcode labels towards QR code labelling. It makes the point that smartphone scannable QR code labels are an easy way to link the product and the consumer for near-effortless authentication.

Product authentication and traceability are both particularly important for medicines, especially since the amendment to the (FMD) which came into effect in 2019; this too could lead to a shift towards QR codes in pharmaceutical labelling in the future.

Beyond security and authentication applications, QR codes work well in inventory management, traceability, mobile payment and for marketing and promotions. Their high data storage capacity is likely to drive future growth as they can contain text, URLs, web pages and contact details, thus opening up a wealth of possibility for QR code labelling across many sectors.

In addition, the enhanced reliability shown by QR codes makes them a great choice for work in progress (WIP) labelling, logistics and delivery labelling and inventory management; cutting error rates and improving speed and operational efficiency.

Who is likely to benefit most from QR code labelling?

Looking at the overall trends the report concludes that the following sectors are likely to lead the way in the take-up of QR code labels in the coming years:

  • The food sector – it is estimated that replacement of barcode labels with QR code labels will gather momentum
  • The beverage sector – from craft beer to spirits, the advantages of pressure-sensitive adhesive QR coded bottle labels that can withstand cold, wet conditions seem likely to encourage usage. Add to this their use as anti-counterfeiting devices and their capacity to connect the brand with the consumer, and QR codes are sure to offer huge benefits in this sector
  • The marketing and promotions sector – with soaring smartphone sales and increasing competition for consumer spend, promotional labelling using QR codes will continue to grow
  • The automotive sector – anti-counterfeiting applications are projected to impact the use of QR code labels in this sector.

Barriers to taking up of QR codes

As with any relatively new technology QR code labels will take time to filter through into all sectors. Ironically, one of the key advantages of QR codes ie scanning via a smartphone has also led to a sluggish take-up amongst organisations already using 1D barcodes. Since QR codes are not scannable by a conventional laser scanner, organisations already using 1D barcode scanners would face a large bill to replace the hardware.

At some point though, the advantages of using 2D barcodes are sure to outweigh the cost of replacing scanning hardware and the predicted paradigm shift will happen.

For details of the full FMI report into the QR code market

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