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How NHS Covid-19 could spark a QR code revival

The UK NHS Covid-19 app has brought QR codes back into popular use. Granger Wittering of Saxon Packaging explores the opportunities in this revival.

Granger Wittering Saxon Packaging

The long-awaited NHS Covid-19 app launched on 24 September to help track and trace, and ultimately help stop the spread of coronavirus. With that has come the revival of the QR code.

What is a QR code? 

QR (Quick Response) codes have been around since the early 1990s and were first used in the automotive industry. It is a two-dimensional barcode consisting of black squares arranged in a square grid, which can be read by most smartphone cameras and QR reading apps.

They were initially used to contain data for a locator, identifier or tracker to point to a website or application. It provided a way to transfer data without the use of cables or other complicated methods and saw a rapid rise in popularity. The QR code evolved to serve many uses including product tracking, item identification, mobile payment, joining Wi-Fi networks and brand marketing.

While QR codes have been humbly performing their duty for more than a quarter of a century, in recent years their growth has been stunted by a dip in consumer popularity. This was predominantly due to smartphone operating systems not offering a fully integrated solution; until 2016 users had to download a standalone app to read them - something that flew in the face of their aim to be quick and easy to use.

A new era for QR codes

This could all change with the roll-out of the NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app. As venues are now mandated to display QR codes at their entrances, visitors are being asked to scan the code upon arrival using the NHS Covid-19 app.

The codes provide a quick and contact-free solution to the track-and-trace procedures for business premises across the UK and also encourage accurate data being given by the public.

Although it is not mandatory to digitally 'check in' (venues must also offer a paper service), QR codes will be displayed prominently for every person wishing to enter the premises. With consumers being continually exposed to this technology, we will see UK citizens quickly adopt the practice of scanning QR codes into their daily lives.

Technology's impact on packaging design

This new habit of scanning with smartphones will no doubt have an impact on the packaging industry as brands move to take advantage of the rapid QR code resurrection with UK consumers.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in the growth of direct-to-consumer retailing, with many brands adapting their business models to react to the prolonged closures of their bricks-and-mortar stores and using e-commerce and subscription as a way to continue getting products into the hands of their consumers. Packaging has always been (and continues to be) an essential part of this consumer journey.

Technology also plays a key role in every aspect of the journey the consumer has with a brand. It is now easily possible to integrate technology within the design elements of packaging, encouraging interaction between consumer and brand. We have witnessed many companies, for example Coca-Cola and Amazon, building QR codes into their packaging in much cleverer ways than those traditionally used.

With an array of print capabilities and additional print finishes, packaging is now more exciting than ever before and is truly being used as a mutual platform between consumer and brand. Packaging has always been a sensory and visual element, and now with the incorporation of the QR code can become something more: a way to interact, build relationships, offer additional value, educate the consumer - its opportunities are endless.

9 October 2020