Is Anyone In The UK Actually Using QR Codes?

Intrigued by a lot of what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve started looking for evidence of QR codes transforming how shoppers are interacting with retailers. The thing is all the evidence I see with my own eyes doesn’t back up this proclaimed uptake. I’ve never noticed a single one in a shop. Now, that could be because I’ve not been looking and if I’m honest, I’ve only had a phone capable of reading them for a few months.

Time for a quick bit of ad-hoc analysis (Health Warning: NOT OFFICIAL FORRESTER RESEARCH !!!)

In order to give this mini research project some vague semblance of credibility, I have adopted the rigorous scientific approach that Mr. Featonby, my A-level physics teacher drilled into me many years ago . . . 


My hypothesis is that retailers aren’t using QR codes in the UK, and furthermore, the average shopper hasn’t a clue what one is.


  1. I went to the local Tesco Metro and browsed the aisles, looking at every product I could find.
  2. I’ve looked through every store magazine and free paper and at every poster I pass in London, on the Midlands Mainline train service, and in Nottingham (where I live) for two weeks.
  3. I posted a picture of a QR code on my Facebook page and asked my friends (average shoppers one and all!) if they knew what it was.
  4. I never said this was a robust survey.


Section 1: The Tesco survey examined products produced by the following manufacturers:

  1. Tesco in-store merchandizing and signage
  2. Tesco's own label products (Value, Regular, Finest)
  3. Heinz
  4. Kellogg's
  5. Nestle
  6. Innocent
  7. Nescafe
  8. Coke
  9. Pepsi
  10. Persil
  11. Fairy
  12. Mars

Results = No QR Codes anywhere

Section 2: I examined multiple copies of the Metro, the Independent, East Midlands Trains free magazine and any signage at St Pancras and Nottingham stations, and on the Piccadilly line. I’ve also been on the lookout on my normal shopping trips at Sainsbury's, Asda, and any other stores I’ve been in recently.

Results: I found a single QR code in the back of a Nottingham taxi, which linked to a site where you could rate the experience. Go Nottingham City Council!

Section 3: I was slightly surprised by the response on Facebook, but I suppose I do have a reasonably tech-savvy community of friends. Thirty-six people responded. Twelve of them honestly said they had no idea what it was. The majority of people recognized it as a link to online content though in a variety of contexts including inventory control, advertising, and travel tickets. Seven people had actually used one, but at least two of those people I counted because they said they’d scanned the code I posted. But only two had seen them in the context of shopping.

One person had seen an ad campaign in Oxfam where shoppers could scan the code to find out the provenance of the clothes they were buying, and the other used them regularly at Subway as part of their mobile loyalty scheme.

OK – a sample size of 36 isn’t statistically significant, but the bit that surprised me was that two-thirds of the people I asked knew roughly what QR codes are and what to do with them.


So short of a couple of anecdotal examples, I’ve struggled to find any significant evidence of QR codes integrated into the average shopping journey. I honestly expected to personally find at least some examples of marketing material linking print to websites. I hoped to find some mobile voucher codes, and I was doubtful whether I’d find any links to product info or in-store offers. Based on the feedback from my “Survey,” people recognize them and will use them — if they can find them!

My long-term view here is that QR codes are simply a stepping stone until something better comes along. I think that something better will be NFC, as at the moment the actual experience of having to download a QR reader, take a photo of a code and then find a website isn’t great. The idea that you can “wave” your phone over a product and start interacting with it is much more compelling.

However, QR codes do offer a real way of allowing customers a reach beyond the physical confines of the store right now — a way of delivering offers, rich product information like video, and an interactive and engaging product experience directly to the growing number of smartphones in circulation today.

I’m amazed that the adoption seems so low.


QR codes

Hi Martin,

I'm intrigued to read your post. Firstly, and contrary to the remainder of my comment, I agree with some of your findings. While often heralded as a great call to action and off-line to online masterstroke, QR codes do not have a great cut through rate amongst the UK population.

It's important to remember that smartphone penetration stands at roughly 30% of the population, so less than a third of a brands' potential audience is equipped with the tools to read a QR code.

But, your research seems patchy! The Metro has been running QR codes in print for the last few months. Until recently on the inside front of the paper, but more recently p4!

My own anecdotal evidence suggests a far higher use of QR codes. I've seen endless examples on promotional material; from flyers at an Elbow gig, a Dr Martens advert in the Metro to advertising panels throughout the city centre (i'm based in Manchester)

Finally i'd like to point you in the direction of The Rock. A retail and leisure destination in Bury. The Rock is running a QR code Easter Hunt from 16 to 25 April.

To sum up, I agree that use and awareness of QR codes is limited, but I would argue that there is greater take-up than your research suggests!



This Isn't Research. Yet...

Thanks for you comments - but it's important to point out that this was in NO WAY a full Research project !

The aim of this small study was to try and work out if there is actually a research topic worthy of some serious investigation. I thought there was, and was quite surprised when I paid some positive attention to trying to find QR codes and still found very little evidence. However your comments, and some of the other comments I received from a few people I asked when I was pulling this together suggest that this still is a subject worthy of investigation from a UK perspective, particularly within the context of Shopping.

My college Julie has already published a wider doc here... which covers the subject of QR codes, but my interest is more specific in that I'm focusing on Europe, not the US market.

If there are some good shopping examples out there in Europe then I'd be interested in hearing about them, so thanks for the heads up.

UK usage of QR codes

Hi Martin,

A good article, thanks. You really hit the nail on the head with much of what you have said.

Waitrose (Ocado) have been using QRcodes, although not widely and, in my opinion, have failed to take proper advantage of them. Marks and Spencers tried them for a short while on some food packaging, and Debenhams have been doing Billboard campaigns for instore discounts (they have described QRcodes as virtual shop assistants). Nintendo have started incorporating them too.

A big problem is when companies using them fail to give adequate instructions or a good experience at the destination page!

For example, in one Debenhams ad that I saw in a leaflet, they said to scan the QRcode with your 'phones camera'. No mention of the necessary app! They ran an ad in the Evening Standard in London, last December - A great opportunity to take people to a great offer or super service - alas no! It took you to a page that just detailed some unintelligble code. The reason apparently, was that you needed Debenhams own dedicated QRcode Scanner to make it work! How pointless.

These mistakes give QRcodes a bad name and will ultimately detract from consumers using them.

For my part, I am now running a local campaign, giving businesses dedicated QRcodes and custom posters to promote them. So if you come to Portsmouth, you will no doubt see them being promoted and used to the full!

Welcome onboard Forrester -

Welcome onboard Forrester - looking forward to your first document.

Regarding QR codes - Point well taken, Martin. I've also not seen much use of QR codes in the UK over the past couple of years. Although, interestingly I've seen usage here in France and Germany, mostly in airports and train stations on display advertising. Also noted it in certain magazines, mostly fashion, home & garden titles both in France and UK.


Honestly speaking,at first I

Honestly speaking,at first I don't even know what QR means,I'm amazed because I'm a little bit ignorance to that terms.As a whole while reading this article instantly realize how it is important to our daily living.