Retailers are doing more with QR codes amid the coronavirus pandemic

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The humble QR code — invented for automobile manufacturing in 1994 — had been on the rise as a payment method for many years, but the pandemic expanded its use in the U.S. in some unforeseen ways.

CVS is readying 8,000 stores to accept PayPal and Venmo via QR codes this fall, creating another contactless payment option beyond NFC and its mobile app. This gives consumers another way to bypass touching cards, cash and payment terminals.

Beyond what CVS is doing, thousands of restaurants that recently introduced QR codes as a way for consumers to access a touchless menu are looking to add ordering, payments, loyalty and other marketing elements to the experience of scanning a QR code with a smartphone.

“QR codes have been around for a while, but the pandemic is causing merchants to move to Phase 2.0 of this technology, making it more robust and versatile,” said Zachary Aron, Deloitte’s payments leader in the U.S. business and capital markets practice.

Restaurants are a hotbed of innovation right now for QR codes, and other categories of brick-and-mortar retailers are also looking to the technology for new use cases, according to Aron. “How broadly this catches on will depend on how well restaurants design that experience in the next phase of QR code development,” he said.

Once a consumer has scanned a QR code, taking them to a merchant's website, retailers have a new way to interact with consumers as long as they make the experience positive, he said.

In April Presto, a Redwood City, Calif.-based restaurant payment solutions provider founded in 2008 rolled out a quick-setup QR code payment solution solution in response to the pandemic, and was immediately swamped with hundreds of thousands of inquiries, according to a spokesperson. Restaurants in more than 22 countries have since ordered the kit.

Presto's QR Code Order & Pay solution overlays atop a restaurant's existing POS system and enables diners to view a full menu, order and pay, with options to join loyalty and marketing programs, without the aid of a waiter. The QR code system also supports pre-ordering, takeout and a digital waiting list for dining rooms.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based NMI, which markets payments processing to small and midsize businesses, also has seen an uptick in demand for its QR code payment solution, particularly among merchants with smaller store footprints and those in nontraditional settings like farmer’s markets and pop-up stores.

“The pandemic and the demand for contactless payments has raised the profile of QR codes, and more merchants are asking us about it,” said Jennifer Sherman, NMI’s senior vice president of product.

NMI sells a solution enabling merchants to accept payments via QR codes where a checkout page opens on the consumer’s smartphone when the code is scanned. The checkout page can be configured to accept cards or mobile payments including Apple Pay and Google Pay, she said.

“Smaller businesses and locations like parking lots and vending machines have been using our QR code technology to accept payments for years, but now merchants in other categories are asking to add QR codes to their mix of payment methods,” Sherman said.

Thirty percent of consumers say they’ve scanned a QR code within the past month, according to a survey Mobileiron conducted early this month among 2,100 U.S. and U.K. respondents. About 14% of respondents said they’d never scanned QR code.

Restaurants, bars and retailers are the most common types of merchants where consumers have used QR codes, with 38% reporting having scanned a QR code at a restaurant or a bar within the last six months, according to Mobileiron’s survey.

More than half of consumers said they’d like to see QR codes used more broadly in the future, while about 10% aren’t interested in using QR codes at all, the survey suggested.

Security surrounding QR codes is still a concern for some consumers. About 17% of respondents in Mobileiron’s survey said a QR code has previously routed them to a suspicious website, while 67% said they’ve never had a suspicious incident and the remainder weren’t sure.

“As contactless payment has become widely accepted — and some consumers are demanding it — there’s a chance for merchants to do a lot more with options like QR codes that could enrich the overall commercial experience,” said Deloitte’s Aron.

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Mobile wallets Mobile payments Retailers Coronavirus