First launched as a method for tracking vehicles during manufacturing in 1994, the humble QR code has become instantly recognisable for most consumers as a marketing tool.  

But while their simplicity and low-cost nature has made them a familiar sight in material such as magazines, it seems the thinking has stagnated in recent years.

The technology has made headlines again recently thanks to a consortium of retailers led by Wal-Mart and Target using it in their CurrentC payment technology. Many US retailers have invested heavily in the platform and are banking on it as a competitive alternative to Apple Pay, but it also misses a powerful opportunity by relegating the codes to just another payment option.

By limiting the deployment of the codes to checkouts, retailers are failing to capitalize on the codes’ ubiquity and flexibility. The approach also continues to rely on the traditional browsing and checkout structure, doing nothing to address the fact that consumers are growing impatient with this approach and increasingly demanding something more agile.

For those companies who are stretching the boundaries of QR codes, it is clear that there is significant potential in this simple technology. If consumers are given the opportunity to use QR codes to complete purchases directly, research has found they are extremely likely to do so.

In fact, a study from Experian states that 95% of mobile marketers in the US still maintain that QR codes are effective or very effective, and 40% of smartphone owners have stated that they made unplanned purchases through a code. With 1.74 billion smartphone owners worldwide in 2014, there is a potentially huge market for the company which cracks the QR code.

Because they only need to be printed on a flat surface to function, QR codes are perfect for application on almost any kind of medium, from billboards and magazines, to in-store products themselves. With only a standard camera phone needed to interact with them, the codes are an ideal way to create an instant mobile sales channel.

Despite their familiarity, QR codes still have the potential to be disruptive – if retailers use them effectively. Consumers are no longer satisfied with using the system to gain more information or as yet another checkout option. They want a channel where they can purchase items instantly, wherever they are. By turning any kind of advert into a virtual store front, retailers will be able to reach more consumers, and more importantly, track direct sales from individual QR code ads.

This is invaluable to retailers who have to justify advertising budgets with no real tangible data for ROI.

Dan Wagner is CEO of Powa Technologies.