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Decoding the QR Code

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They’ve been seen in magazines and newspapers, and on business cards and real estate signs. They’re square; they have boxes on three corners; they look like an ink-blot test in the middle; and their business applications seem unlimited.

They’re called QR codes.

“My husband and I just started seeing them everywhere, and we said, ‘What in the world is this about?’” said Betty Knowles, a Keller Williams Realty agent with her husband, Tom, before beginning to use the codes on real estate signs in late February.

According to a white paper by St. Petersburg, Fla.-based marketing company Responsive Solutions, a QR code is a two-dimensional bar code developed in 1994 to track Japanese automobile parts through production. From there, companies began to see their potential, and their popularity only recently began to spread throughout the Middle East and Europe, according to

QR stands for “quick response,” and according to the Web site, Japanese-based data-capture developers Denso Wave originally spawned the term with the intent that such barcodes and their contents were to be decoded at high speeds electronically.

Today, in the U.S., smart-phone users can utilize the technology via applications and scan codes by snapping a picture with the phone’s camera. The phone is then redirected, provided it has the readable application, to a Web site or targeted message.

According to Responsive Solutions’ white paper, once a smart-phone user finds a QR code in an advertisement or on a sign, or anywhere, taking a picture with their cell phone does all the work, translating the code into the predetermined information set by its originator.

KSPR's SBJ Report on QR codes
Sara Clark, director of web and new media for Missouri State University, said the codes could be used to link to Web content, present a text message or photo, or make a phone call. Basically, she said, they can be used to make a smart phone do anything it could already do.

“It’s been (known) for a while that mobile phones have been able to do this, but until the Android hit the market, it didn’t work very smoothly,” Clark said adding that the university is still trying to determine how to best use the technology to interact with students. She said she has just recently started seeing the codes on campus and around town.

Betty Knowles plans on putting the codes on all of her real estate signs in front of homes for sale, and she currently has codes on 11 signs. When potential buyers are considering a property, they can scan the code to link them to information about that particular house.

“It’s a wonderful tool. It just brings up everything about the home,” Knowles said.
According to a December Pew research study, 82 percent of American adults have cell phones, and 39 percent use them to access the Internet. A separate study by QRAware found that 52 percent of consumers have seen and heard of the codes, 28 percent of respondents have scanned at least one, and 6 percent of users claimed that the codes led to a purchase.

Justice Jewelers owner Woody Justice has just started posting codes in his store as a way for younger customers to come in and learn about products, or the company, without having to talk to a salesperson.

“We have so many different designers, and so many stories to tell that it’s very difficult for us to advertise everything, or to even tell the stories when the people are in the store,” Justice said. “By utilizing QR codes, they can simply go to different parts of our Web site, or to the designer’s Web site, to learn more about that particular line of jewelry.”

At, Justice has posted downloadable application for smart phones to read the codes. “Then they can wander the store and get all kinds of information without disturbing anybody or having anybody disturb them,” he said.

Soon, the codes will go on all employee business cards, and they may have contests and games available to customers by using the codes.

Chris Pederson, IT manager and marketing coordinator for Justice Jewelers, said the shop had six QR codes up and a poster for customers explaining how to use the codes, which were put into place Feb. 21.

He said the company didn’t spend any money to set up the codes. He said a number of sites, such as and, offer free software to generate the codes for print. But there may be limitations, such as expiration dates. And Pederson said some companies are bundling free software packages and reselling them.

Before companies start printing QR codes, Pederson said they should first think of how the codes would be used and then consider developing a mobile version of their Web sites.

Pederson said Justice Jewelers does not have a mobile version, but the site is fully functional for smart-phone users.

Clark said QR codes were used recently as an MSU public relations tool. Students and prospective students received T-shirts this year with the codes on the back that led to a Web page with information about the university.

Still, she said, not everyone understands the purpose.

“It’s becoming more mainstream,” Clark said. “And as it becomes more mainstream, we’ll use it more and more. We found that when we put the QR codes out there for the shirts, it was an educational process to get people to understand what they were.”[[In-content Ad]]


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