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Decoding QR Codes: What Works, What Doesn’t

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Square, black and white codes are popping up all over on products, in magazines, on buildings and business cards.

QR codes, or quick response codes, link the outside world to the web through your phone. The popular images are popping up in everywhere … even on your street.

Minneapolis real estate agent Cotty Lowry has sold homes for 30 years and believes the key to success is staying ahead of the curb.

“It’s really nothing more than a square barcode,” Lowry said.

Lowry put the small symbol on his signs to connect owners to buyers. A scan gives them all the details on a website.

“It’s an attempt to be on the leading edge, but it’s also very simple. You don’t have to have to type in www … you just walk up, click it, take a picture of it and you’re done,” he said.

E-strategist David Erickson tracks the effectiveness of QR codes, including his very own. He said when used properly, the tool has great uses, linking customers to coupons, contests and products.

“It could be a website URL, it could be an email, it could be a text message you could respond to. It could be just a virtual contact card with your contact information,” explained Erickson.

He said decoding the QR code is easy. First, download a QR app on your smartphone.

“It just gives you basically a camera window that you apply to the QR code,” Erickson said.

In one example, Erickson scans a code promoted by Minnesota Girl Scouts during cookie season that displays a form asking alumni to reconnect.

But Erickson said links with a purpose, easily viewed on a phone, have more impact, otherwise, sheer novelty can be a downfall.

“I’ve seen QR codes on sidewalks where people are walking over them, so obviously they’re hard to scan,” he said. “I’ve seen a QR code on a poster above a urinal in a bar, and you know, you gotta think about the context.”

Right now, QR codes in the Twin Cities promote deals at Caribou Coffee, explain products on the shelves at Best Buy, and at Lake Harriet, offer clues in a Minneapolis Bike Tour scavenger hunt.

The Uptown Cafeteria Restaurant even serves up instructions for QR codes. With one click, customers can be transported to a list of daily specials.

Adam Tischler couldn’t resist testing out the giant code outside his Uptown apartment.

“It’s more of like a curiosity thing for me. If I was walking by this place and I wanted to get a clear distinction of what’s available in the property, I can just scan that,” Tischler said.

That’s exactly what Lowry envisions too; as more than a web address, but the type of technology that’s here to stay.

QR Codes were first invented in Japan back in 1994, but only have made headway in the U.S. in the past year or so.

How do you get a QR code? Many websites or programs generate them for you online, often for free.

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