Scanners Going Wild With Mobile Barcodes


barcodeADOTAS – Since watching the excellent documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” I’ve become hyper-aware of all the surrounding street art (more than just graffiti, but art is like pornography in that you know it when you see it) and since I live in a trendy part of Brooklyn, that makes for a lot of crazy stenciled art and sculpture.

In particular, I’ve been seeing more and more mobile barcodes, which look like digital Rorschach inkblots, show up on brick walls next to hipster hangouts. Use your smartphone’s camera to scan it and it will take you somewhere wonderful, like a mystical world of elves and talking owls… Or maybe just to a landing page where someone can sell you something — hopefully at a discount!

But street art is a pretty tiny use of mobile barcodes — the Rorschach tests show up more often in print and on physical products. The use of mobile barcodes has skyrocketed this year, according to Scanbuy — facilitator of the ScanLife Code Management Platform, which generates QR Code, Datamatrix and EZcode for marketers — with scanning traffic of both 1D (limited to 40 characters) and 2D (up to 2,000 characters) barcodes through its platform up more than 700%.

The first ever ScanLife Mobile Barcode Trend Report finds that July alone recorded more scans than all of 2009, and the growth rate has only grown steeper over the last three months.

Eighty-five percent of all scans lead to a web URL, with all other categories (e.g., menu and contact pages) making up less than 15%. Health and beauty products were the most scanned, making up 21.2%, followed by grocery (14.4%) and books (12.6%). ScanBuy noted that the top product purchases through mobile devices were from health and beauty, books and electronics, which had a 6.2% share of scans.

Because many Android devices come packaged with scanning apps, about 45% of scans came from Android-powered devices, with the Motorola Droid being the most popular smartphone — Verizon gives mobile barcode apps strong carrier support, according to ScanBuy. BlackBerrys accounted for 27% of scans iPhones claimed 15%, though the iPhone was the second most-used device.

The age groups of 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 each represented quarter of scanners, showing that the demographic has little relevance. The biggest scanners tend to be middle class, with 33% of scanners reporting household income between $50,000 and $100,000; another 23% reported income below $50,000 and 20% were between $100,000.

About three-quarters of scanners are male, leaving a quarter female; I immediately thought about Bizo’s recent gender-based clicking data, which showed that while women were likely to click on multiple display ads (something akin to window shopping), men were more likely to follow through on an action (e.g., give an email address). With mobile barcodes, I’m going to guess that the higher percentage in male scanners is a result of boys playing with their toys — ScanBuy calls them an “Early Adopter” group more likely to use mobile apps.

While the growth in scanning this year is certainly impressive, the novelty factor is still high in this sector — just like scanning a coupon off a mobile device, people are still wowed that a quick scan can bring you to a website. While I may see a lot of mobile barcodes in my neighborhood — as well as in magazines and newspapers — I usually don’t pull out the ol’ iPhone because there’s nothing there to pique my curiosity.

At some point in the very near future, marketers hoping to draw attention via mobile barcodes will have to make sure creative around barcodes makes them alluring enough to scan — just like how a display ad has to entice a user to click-through to the landing page.


  1. I have been pushing 2D bar codes for restaurants for the last year. I usually do 2 bar codes for each restaurant, one for reviews on Yelp and the other for their menu.

    I can only imagine what the next couple of years is going to bring as far as bar codes.

    Great article

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