The futuristic square bar codes, commonly known as quick response, or QR, codes, are sprouting up everywhere — on billboards, in store displays, on packaging and in newspaper and magazine ads.
Invented in Japan in 1994, the technology has recently gained traction among U.S. retailers and other companies as an innovative way to reach consumers. Once scanned with a smartphone or tablet camera, the codes prompt your device to open a Web page, play a video or even place a call.
Target Corp., Macy's Inc., Best Buy Co., Starbucks Corp. and Home Depot Inc. are just a few of the companies putting QRs in ads or in stores. Leading code maker Scanbuy, which tracks figures for QR code scans, said the number had shot up more than 1,600% in the last year and a half to about 2 million a month.
But many ads with QRs have little or no explanation of how to scan them or how the codes work.
So what do you do when you see one of these newfangled squares that appear to be a cross between abstract art and Rorschach tests?