QR Codes vs Barcodes: The Ultimate Battle

QR Codes vs Barcodes—a highly debated topic. There’s a good reason why more businesses are opting for QR Codes, both for marketing and internal business processes. Their technology is far superior to Barcodes and was developed because Barcodes left business managers wanting more. QR Codes are faster, can hold more information, and are highly resistant to damages.

A brief history of Barcodes and QR Codes

Developed long before QR Codes, Barcode history stems back to 1960s Japan during a hefty rise in consumerism. Customers wanted more and more variety of products from supermarkets, so they needed a way to keep up. Before Barcodes were invented, cashiers actually had to document each product someone bought by hand (ouch!). This, of course, led to disgruntled employees who started to develop carpal tunnel. As a result, supermarket managers were motivated to create a computerized version of the cashier process, so in came Barcodes.

While Barcodes did the trick for a while, it still wasn’t enough. Barcodes were slow to scan, highly limited in their information capacity and couldn’t withstand much damage, a huge obstacle for the shipping industry. Finally, a new inventor was able to find an improved solution: QR Codes. Released in 1995 by inventor Masahiro Hara from Denso Wave Incorporated, QR Codes became available for public use and have been growing in popularity ever since.

So why are QR Codes so much better than Barcodes? It comes down to their structure.

One-dimensional Barcodes

The basic Barcode structure

Barcodes have a rectangular one-dimensional structure, meaning that they can only be read horizontally. Their information capacity is only 20 alphanumeric characters, so they are limited in the scope for where and how they can be used. They might work for basic inventory management, but most companies still need to pay for additional software to keep everything in check. Furthermore, Barcodes can only be scanned with a special scanning device, so this makes them really only useful for internal business processes. Nevertheless, if you need a very basic label for product inventory in a small size, Barcodes could be suitable here.

Two-dimensional QR Codes

The basic QR Code structure

QR Codes use a two-dimensional structure, meaning that they can be read both horizontally and vertically. They use a square shape and have a much more complex structure than a Barcode. This structure is what makes them extremely error-tolerant, improves their information capacity by a large margin, and makes scanning faster and easier. This flexibility is what makes them ideal for marketing campaigns and other business uses.

See more details on all the structural elements of QR Codes.

Common Barcode types and their uses

You’ve probably seen quite a few Barcodes throughout your lifetime, the majority of which are used for POS (point of sale) scanning in the same manner as described for Barcode history. Here are three popular types of Barcodes used in the global packaging and retail industries.

UPC Code

A typical UPC Code

UPC Codes, also known as Universal Product Codes, are used in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand for labeling and scanning consumer goods for the retail industry during POS. There are two versions, one of which contains twelve numerical digits, while the other only contains six numerical digits.

EAN Code

A typical EAN Code

A European Article (EAN) Code functions more or less the same as a UPC Code. The difference is the geographic distinction, which is clear from the name that these Codes are primarily used in Europe. They also are used for POS labeling and scanning in the retail industry.

ITF (Interleaved 2 of 5)

ITF Codes are a type of Global Trade Item Number Barcode that is primarily used for shipping package materials across the globe. They hold up to 14 numeric digits and have a higher error tolerance than other types of Barcodes, making them more suitable for goods shipped in cardboard.

A typical ITF Barcode

Nevertheless, while Barcodes do come in different varieties that are applicable in multiple industries, they are still quite limited outside of packaging and POS. QR Codes are simply much more advanced in all aspects of their structure, which is why they have become so popular on a global scale.

Take a look at other variations of QR Codes.

Why QR Codes triumph against Barcodes

Despite the fact that there are different structural forms, we recommend sticking to the square model that our software provides because it maximizes a QR Code’s effectiveness and possibilities for customization. If you’re considering whether to use Barcodes or QR Codes for your business, here are a few reasons why QR Codes may be the route to go.

10 reasons why QR Codes are better than Barcodes

Easier to scan

As mentioned above, Barcodes require a special scanning device to be read, which means that the average person has no way to read them. While this limitation may work for the packaging industry, this renders Barcodes useless for marketing campaigns or any customer-based product packaging. QR Codes can be read by anyone with a smartphone, even at different angles and distances, which is why they’ve found a popular spot in print materials like posters and vehicle ads.

Improved loading & scanning speeds

QR Codes can also be scanned and load information more efficiently than Barcodes. QR Codes use short URL technology, in which any linked information is condensed into a shorter link so that it loads faster. You’ve probably seen this technology used quite often on social media, and it works basically the same for QR Codes, including the capability for URL customization. For example, in the image below the short URL for the Lionspring LinkedIn post is “l.ead.me/lionspring3”.

Short URL examples being used on social media posts

Unique customization features brand products

Another huge advantage of QR Codes is how much they can be customized. All QR Codes created with QR Code Generator software enable custom colors, images or a logo within the QR Code, custom frames and edges, as well as a CTA (call to action) next to the QR Code so a user understands its purpose.

QR Code Generator PRO customization software

Pro tip: there are a few details to keep in mind when creating and printing QR Codes. See our handy overview to help you get started.

Always trackable and editable

If you opt for Dynamic QR Codes, in particular, you receive crucial tracking information for marketing campaigns. This includes data on scans by city and country, operating device used, time scanned, and unique vs. total scans. Furthermore, Dynamic QR Codes can be edited and updated whenever you need them. This means if you need to change your link or even want to change the type of QR Code (such as swap out images with a video), you can do so without changing the original appearance of the QR Code.

Demo version of QR Code tracking with QR Code Generator PRO

We’ve already mentioned that QR Codes have a higher information capacity. QR Codes hold up to 4296 characters in a single Code. Remember the amount for Barcodes? Around 20! That’s a no-brainer for why QR Codes are the more popular choice. Barcodes simply can’t compete in this regard.

Flexible solutions

QR Code Generator has developed solutions for all your QR Code needs. Whether you’d like to share social media links, create a digital business card, add Event QR Codes to print materials, increase app downloads, all this is possible and more. You can find the complete list of QR Code solutions here.

Ideal for marketing campaigns

The combination of the components mentioned above (editability, trackability, and customization) makes QR Codes the perfect tool for marketing campaigns. You can test QR Code campaigns across different locations, time periods, and marketing platforms to optimize your marketing strategies, all the while accumulating brand awareness.

Example of a QR Code used in a marketing campaign

Pro tip: QR Code tracking doesn’t stop with the QR Code scan. QR Code campaigns can be integrated with Google Analytics in order to gain a complete understanding of a customer’s journey from QR Code scan to purchase. For help with setting this up, see the guide.

Makes ROI for print materials calculable

Example of a QR Code on a printed brochure

If your marketing campaign needs to encompass not only digital but also print marketing, QR Codes do this flawlessly. In the past, print mediums like billboards, posters, flyers, brochures, stickers and more were used to spread brand awareness and generate revenue, but you could only guess at the actual ROI (return on investment). QR Codes solve this problem entirely, because you can see exactly how many scans you got, when they occurred, and what customers did directly after that. Not to mention it’s way easier for a customer to scan the print QR Code than it is to type in a long link.

Better error tolerance

Last but not least, QR Codes have a much higher error tolerance than Barcodes (up to 30%). This is possible due to their cleverly designed structural elements. QR Codes use duplicated pixels, meaning that if a part of the QR Code is destroyed, then the other pixels contain the same information so that the QR Code is still readable.

Works with an inventory management system

QR Codes upgrade inventory management systems

If you’re not yet convinced about QR Codes for inventory management, then think again. Not only do Barcodes require a special, costly scanning device, they also need a computer nearby to be read. Amidst a busy warehouse, this can be difficult to organize and frustrating for employees. It’s much easier for them to scan a QR Code with a smartphone and have all the data then and there. Furthermore, many inventory management software solutions already integrate QR Codes, so making the switch is easy to do.

Adriana Stein

Adriana Stein is a Freelance Content Writer for Egoditor GmbH and is originally from Oregon, USA. She is now based in Hamburg, Germany, and specializes in creating and managing SEO and content marketing strategies for businesses across a variety of industries. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn!

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