75% of College Students won’t scan your #highered QR codes

November 29th, 2011 Karine Joly 20 Comments

According to the study conducted by Archrival on 24 US campuses (n=500 with a +/-4.25% margin of error), three quarters of current students won’t probably bother scanning your QR codes (thanks to 2code for the tip).

While the majority knows what QR codes are, only 21% managed to scan the one used for this research. So, technology could be the culprit.

Anyway, the main results of this study are summarized in the following infographics.

QR codes on campuses - Archrival infographics

Do you use QR codes on your campus?
Any traffic data to share with us? Please post a comment if you do.

20 Responses

  1. Chris Syme says:

    One of the things this study doesn’t address is motivation. If there isn’t a benefit to scanning codes, people will not likely scan. QR codes have had good success rates in retail, in printed materials for coupon incentives, and many other benefit-related uses. The trouble with QR codes isn’t that codes or readers are clunky or inconvenient, it’s the fact that people aren’t using them well. Like any other marketing tool, they take an understanding of how to use effectively. I think this info shows that we have a ways to go in learning how to implement them and teaching people how to use them.

  2. Karine Joly says:

    I’m sorry, Chris, but I disagree. Technology (and in this specific case the fact that QR code readers are not integrated with mobile phone cameras) is a MAJOR reason for the slower adoption.

    Why teach people to use something that is not user-friendly? Technologies that stick are convenient – or they just fade away.

    It’s true that motivation is essential, but if it’s not easy to do, students (or busy people – aren’t we all nowdays?) aren’t going to bother – especially because institutions can’t offer a free latte or a 20% discount to justify the extra effort.

    The day QR code reading will be just another camera feature on mobile phones, then smart higher ed marketers will be able to use them as marketing tools – and not just shiny toys.

  3. I am a twenty-something who is usually a first adopter of new technology, but I have to say that I hate QR codes and can’t figure out why marketers seem to think that they are the future.

    Here’s my beef with them:
    1. It takes way too much effort. I like my marketing to be simple.
    2. It’s too time-intensive. It takes too long to dig my phone out of my pocket, swipe to unlock, find and open the QR reading app, take the picture, wait for it to go to the corresponding website
    3. People do not know how to use them.

    I’ve begun to notice QR codes in ridiculous places, like on a billboard on the side of a highway, or during 15-second commercials on TV. Do the geniuses that decided to put them in these places really think that I’ll be able to scan their code that quickly?

    I think that it is infinitely better to have a simple URL to the content (example.com/discount). It’s easy to remember and I can type it into my phone’s browser faster than I can read a QR code.

    I have to admit though, the instance where I actually think a QR code is useful is on a business card where upon scanning the QR code it inputs the name/phone/email/twitter/etc. information into my phone’s contacts. That saves me time and effort, which is what new technology should do.

  4. Erik Hagen says:

    Sounds about right. They are definitely still clunky and in the “new shiny object” phase (even though the tech has been around for years). Maybe when all mobile devices have built-in readers that are easy to use they’ll become a viable option.

    The business card example is a good use, but good examples are few and far between. Most marketers seem to be using them just for the sake of it rather than providing useful and context-appropriate functionality.

  5. Cassie Dull says:

    This infographic is awesome. It’s great to see some actual research back up what I’ve believed to be true since I first saw QR codes pop up – simply put, most people just won’t bother with them. I just wrote an article in the October CASE CURRENTS magazine arguing that QR codes were going to fade away, and my number one reason was because mobile technology in the average consumer’s hand is not QR code friendly. It takes too much effort on the user’s end, and then most of the time, the marketer hasn’t even made the end result worthwhile.

  6. Lori Nidoh says:

    I think that most of what people have said above is true and all contributes to the small % of people that will scan a QR code. IF the ability to scan from your phone was a one step process and IF the call to action was really appealing in the ad or direct mail piece (or whatever) and IF the content the QR code linked to was optimized for mobile and can live up to the expectations your print piece has laid out, THEN we might see a larger % of people scan the codes.
    We have used them in a variety of situations with mixed results. I recently gathered the stats (we tag our links with Google campaign tracking and use bit.ly to generate the QR code) for an internal report and will share them soon on this and/or other higher ed blog sites.
    I’m not ready to give up on them yet but feel they have a way to go to live up to their potential.

  7. Ben says:

    There seems a disconnect between the survey answers and reality if 22% had on-phone capabilities to scan and 18% responded they were likely or very likely to scan. That indicates better than 80% of equipped users will engage every QR code they see, which seems unlikely. There must be web analytics that can address actual conversion somewhere.

  8. Karine Joly says:

    That’s why I’m interested to hear from anybody working in higher ed who did implement and measure results of a campaign including QR codes.

  9. We’ve made minimal use of them so far to test the idea–for example, by including a QR code on a sandwich board sign promoting a student survey last fall. Never alone–always with a memorable URL, as Karine suggests. Not a major factor but we’ll keep including them in certain places where it makes sense to test whether adoption rates go up.

    My question about the results isn’t so much the results, it’s the geography! So the upper tier of the country doesn’t exist? I work at Washington State University Spokane, in the region of the country they didn’t survey.

    While I recognize that having a sufficient sample size, appropriately selected, is supposed to make results generalizable, looking at the map makes me question this survey. Similar to the way that Foursquare is of greater value in big cities with lots of specials for check-ins, perhaps QR codes are of greater value in certain types of places.


  10. Brittany says:

    I am an undergrad at Penn State, and our school has adopted the idea of QR codes. Personally, I pass one every day, and so do my peers, as there is one outside the busiest classroom building on campus. But not once have I seen a student stop to scan it. I have heard that the QR codes were installed with a focus on prospective students being able to scan them while on tours. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure, but as a campus tour guide, I can also confirm that not a single prospective student on any of my 30 tours this semester has scanned a QR code. I agree with Joseph that it takes too long to scan, it is a pain to dig your phone out of your pocket, and people are unfamiliar with the idea of QR codes. Additionally, I know that personally, I don’t care to scan a QR code that will tell my the history of the elm trees located on Penn State’s mall. Maybe if there was actually a reason to scan the QR codes, more students would be stop and scan them on campus.

  11. Rob says:

    I agree with the point of slow adaptation because a slow understanding of accessing QR codes but they are often misused in the first place. If a QR code says scan for a chance to win, xx% off or register for people are more likely to scan. When you put it on an ad or the side of a building it’s just another UPC people ignore.

  12. A. B. Rios says:

    There are quite a few signs on my campus with QR codes. I’ve only seen a student scanning a QR code once. He was trying to scan it discreetly, almost as if he was embarrassed to do it.

  13. Osvaldo Del Valle says:

    I am the 25%.

  14. Brian Smith says:

    I don’t know why people are thinking adoption has been slow? As compared to what? It’s just getting started.

    You have to consider ROI = Return on Investment. They are so easy to use and set up that having a QR code on a printed page does not require much investment at all. The ROI is fantastic.

  15. Karine Joly says:

    But, what about the opportunity cost of including something that isn’t useful – leaving less room for something that is?

    Should we use every single marketing tactics if they don’t cost anything? Do you measure traffic generated by these QR codes? I’m not saying they CAN’T work, still asking if they do or will.

  16. Here’s my problem with this research, it’s apples and oranges, but without the oranges. Archrival made a couple glaring mistakes in the methodology. The first is that they didn’t use a statistically significant sample size (534). And even forgiving that, there is no contrasting factor. I see people mentioning this on Twitter saying it like “ONLY 21% ARE USING QR CODES, GUESS THAT SUCKS,” except how does that compare to other similar methods of engagement, like placing a phone number on a poster, or a URL, or asking someone to drop by an office. Anecdotally, I would surmise that 21% engagement is WAY higher than alternatives. That’s an extremely important contrasting factor one HAS to take into account when saying stuff like this. Omitting it is simply disrepecting the overall theme of the message you’re trying to get across.

    Data like this is important, but I’d like to see it done in full context with a larger group. Otherwise, this strikes me as nothing more than infographic linkbait.

  17. Karine Joly says:


    They provide the margin of error (4.25%). It is big, but when the split is so important, it still gives a good idea. No?

    Obviously, I’m just the messenger here. It’s not MY research :-)

  18. Jenay says:


    I’m not sure if this counts as official research, but I recently posted 75 paper flyers on bulletin boards all over a state university in my home city. The offer was to sign up for receiving text messages with discounts and coupons for stuff around campus and earn cash rewards at the same time. My flyer has a basic marketing message and only has a big (6×6 inch) QR code and no other means of contact or sign-up info. I thought I would only need the QR as it points right to the sign-up webpage.


    So either my offer/marketing message is really horrible or the students just aren’t scanning my QR. I suppose to do “real research” I will have to go back to the campus and replace my old QR flyers with new ones bearing a url.

    While I was posting these flyers, I did notice other flyers with similar marketing messages, but with the little flaps of paper at the bottom that you’re supposed to rip off (with the url or phone number). These flyers seemed to have at least 50% of the little flaps ripped off. So I guess I will be upgrading my flyers from QR to little “rippies”

    Maybe when I replace all my QR flyers, I can leave another comment here to note my results.

  19. […] to keep in mind for higher education institutions in particular, a recent survey reported that most (75%) of college students won’t scan QR codes, so whatever the content is, it needs to be something that motivates the students enough to be […]

  20. Brent says:

    I’m not a big fan of QR. It really isn’t “quick”. Maybe a scanner auto for such references on our homescreen – drive past a billboard and flash something on your mobile screen – whatever. otherwise, swipe phone on, and tag QR if in range, friends in street view, or possible matches for online dating if you’re into that, idk, with point of perspective (fading) laser type direction from the home screen to see where your friends are might be cool. Scanning code is so 1992; STILL, do you really want your camera/device connected to the entire surface of the planet in duration for each specific place you visit. Having typed this, remember your rights people.

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