QR Codes: The Risks, Benefits, and Real-World Applications
Over the past two years, we have seen a fast rise in the usage of QR codes to help customers quickly access web pages on the go. This has opened the door for new ways for SMBs to market and share important information and new potential risks for customers.
According to one study, in the U.S., an estimated 11 million households used a QR code in 2020, up from only 9.76 million in 2018. That’s a significant increase, likely driven by the increased proliferation of smartphone technology and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that drove businesses to consider more digital forms of sharing information in touchless ways.
However, the rise of this technology also introduces new potential cybersecurity risks. Unlike a traditional link, where a user might be able to determine its source and decide if it is trustworthy, a QR code masks the source of the link and takes you directly to the site. Cybercriminals could use the link, for instance, to route unsuspecting users to a phishing site to harvest their information or download malicious software onto their device.
Even with the risk aside, there are still many reasons for SMBs to consider using QR codes responsibly. QR codes can be a great way for SMBs to share digital information quickly with customers in their physical locations. For instance, a restaurant can use QR codes as a handy way for customers to access a drink or food menu (and many have leveraged it during the COVID-19 pandemic). In some cases, a QR code may even be better than a physical copy, as businesses can constantly update the menu or list service offerings without needing to print a new version each time.
QR codes can also be an excellent tool for marketing purposes, and SMBs can use them to showcase a contest or company information in an easy-to-access way. By putting a QR code on a brochure, poster, t-shirt, or billboard, a current or potential customer can easily be driven to a digital location with more information, encouraging more interactivity with the brand and allowing the SMB to share more detailed information on their offerings.
To use a QR code safely, SMBs should ensure that their QR code does not put a current or potential customer in a position where they might not know its source. Additionally, they should make sure that criminals aren’t altering their intended path for customers by using a sticker to place a different QR code over the legitimate one.
As with any new platform that is experiencing fast growth, it’s worth an SMB taking the time to decide if QR codes are a helpful tool for them. While QR codes may present some risk, they also present a significant new opportunity to SMBs that take the proper steps to take advantage of them responsibly.