One afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit with four professional, tech-savvy Millennials and one Gen Z and ask about their perception and use of QR Codes. Listening to all five respond to my cross-examination answered a lot of questions I had about why QR Codes have not gained the traction I would have expected.   

Here’s the make-up of the group:

  • College student and marketing/graphic design support
  • Director of programming
  • Consultant and non-profit fundraising expert
  • College student and part-time facilities support
  • Director of marketing and community engagement

With this group, all ranging from early 20s to mid-30s, I figured there had to be at least some QR Code use. I was wrong. Here are some of the key issues about why this is. 

  1. QR Codes are seen as too much work.

When asked about QR Codes, two didn’t know what they were and the other three described them as being “too much work.” When they described the process and why it was so much trouble, none of them described it accurately. They added steps, talked about “taking pictures,” and used other language that showed that their understanding of QR Codes was tangential at best. 

  1. They didn’t understand the benefits.

Most people are willing to expend additional effort when they see a payoff at the end. None saw QR Codes as offering a payoff. Why they would scan a code when they could just Google the information instead? If there was unique content they were missing out on, or if scanning a QR Code was faster and more efficient than the process they were using, they didn't seem to care.

  1. There is a lack of curiosity.

Not only was this group unfamiliar with how QR Codes worked, but there was a lack of curiosity about them, too. After all, they said, if they wanted to learn more about something, they would just do an Internet search. Why bother to use the code at all?

  1. Early negative experiences remain.

Those who had used QR Codes in the past had negative experiences that still define QR Code use for them. They were sent to a non-mobile-optimized corporate site. The link was broken. The information was irrelevant. They had a few bad experiences and never tried again.   It doesn’t matter that the content on the back end is getting better. If they don’t scan the codes, they aren’t going to find out.

I wanted to dig into the fundraising consultant’s perception, in particular. Isn’t there value in using QR Codes to send people to mobile videos showing how the fundraising dollars are being used? Happy children drinking fresh water? Pets saved from abuse and neglect now frolicking in their new homes?

The consultant said that his organization had tested QR Codes, and usage was quite low. Plus, people who scanned QR Codes tend not to be givers. “We found that if we sent the appeal to 10,000 people, we’d have 100 people use the code,” he said. “Of the Gen Zs, we saw no use at all. It didn't lead to gifts, either. People who used the QR Code watched the video, but didn’t give.”

  1. In all, they just couldn’t be bothered.

These Millennials and Gen Z had their way of doing things. It worked, so if it ain’t broke, they said, why fix it? After I talked up QR Codes a little bit and corrected some of their misperceptions, several expressed very mild interest. Maybe they might try it sometime. But it was pretty clear that if I wasn’t there at the moment of opportunity, making the case in their ears, they probably wouldn’t.

Personally, I like QR Codes, and I use them. Sometimes they don’t provide value, the link is broken, or they send me somewhere pointless. But I understand them well enough to keep trying, knowing that when they are done well, the pay-off is worth it. But that’s me.

When it comes to Millennials and Gen Z—at least these five—QR Codes serve no purpose, so when they see them, they aren’t even curious. Even if the marketer includes a well-worded benefit to scanning the code, they will probably miss it because they’ve already tuned out. If they’re wrong, they don’t care. They’ve got their own way of doing things, and that’s good enough for them.

Are there flaws in their thinking? It doesn’t matter. Sometimes perception is reality. This appears to be one of those times.