Research Outline

QR Codes' Unique Use Cases


To identify a list of niche, unique or strange use cases of Quick Response (QR) codes globally, which could include cases that are commonly seen in the US market.

Early Findings

  • QR codes have mainly been used to direct audiences to information on a physical object through a Website or to take a course of action, such as making a payment. The latter case was relatively less common, which represented approximately 25% of the use cases in 2015. Although QR codes have wide adoption, it is commonly seen in the space of marketing/advertising, retail, restaurant and transportation.

Non-Website Use Cases

  • The niche, unique or strange application of QR codes is more likely associated with directing smartphone users to take a course of action. For example, IKEA has adopted the mobile self-serve check-out app that allows shoppers to scan the QR codes of products and make a payment, all done via their mobile phones.
  • Since China has the prevalent use of QR codes, its use cases have expanded to many aspects of life. For example, the QR code on mobile phones has been used as an identity badge for entering and exiting public transport stations and it also appears on road signs, which contains the information of the nearest police stations. Lately, Japan has adopted the QR code scanners, which provide tourists who do not have prepaid cards with the convenience of using the QR codes to enter and exit train stations.

Website Use Cases

  • Among the popular uses of QR codes to access the hidden information of a physical object, some cases are seen as strange or less common. For example, in Japan, QR codes are attached to the tombstones made by Ishinokoe, when people scan the code, it reveals the information of the deceased person's family members and visitors. On another occasion, when people play board games where the dice is covered by QR codes, players use their phones to scan the code and see if it is a monster or angel. More cases can be found here.
  • Some cases of applying QR codes are perceived as being creative and unique. For example, a tattoo shop that looks to hire a tattoo artist posts a job advert that requires applicants to complete a vague QR code before they could scan it and send through their resumes. There are some other unique cases of applications in the same article.
  • Other use cases relate to the design of the code itself and fashion. For example, a waist belt buckle is covered by a QR code; a steel-made key chain resembles a QR code.

Technology Driven Use Cases

  • From a technology perspective, QR code could be linked to multiple URLs and it could lead users to different Websites, depending on such factors as time and location. For example, when customers scan a QR code on the package of goods purchased for future reorder, information displayed depends on the location of the customer.
  • Not only could QR codes be linked to a Website that contains text, audio and video content, but the content could be made with virtual and augmented reality technologies, which gives audiences an immersive experience. For example, the Sukiennice Museum in Poland has attached QR codes to paintings, which shows visitors the performance telling a story about the artworks.

Public Health or COVID-19 Use Cases

  • Concerning the COVID-19 global pandemic, technology vendors in China, such as Alipay and Tencent, have developed a mobile app that contains QR codes (i.e. personal health codes), which tracks the movement of people and their health status. The app has also connected to government portals and allowed users to see if they have contacted persons who have COVID-19 disease. In Canada, the Saskatoon school division has also developed a QR code used to track students at schools and control the transmission of COVID-19. In the US, restaurants are expected to see noticeable adoption of QR codes for mobile ordering, curbside pickup, and cashless payment driven by COVID.

Summary of Early Findings

  • Even though there is a large amount of information on QR codes, the amount of information on niche, unique or strange use cases appear to be relatively few. As use cases linked to Websites are common, we sourced some information on niche, unique or strange cases from blog articles.
  • Our initial findings identified a variety of niche, unique or strange cases of using QR codes for commercial, health, education and fashion purposes. At present, the selected examples are expected to be less common in the US but to be more popular in the future.
  • The use cases of QR codes appear to be mostly in Asian countries, such as China and Japan, and the European markets, such as Poland and Germany. Further research is expected to continue in these regions where QR codes have wide adoption. With the increasing adoption of smartphones and phone cameras embedded with QR code scanners, emerging use cases in North America are also likely in the future.