The introduction of mobile apps such as SnapScan, Flickpay and Zapper, which make use of quick response (QR) codes to capture payment details from a retail cashier using your phone’s camera, helped grow the number of people using QR codes in South Africa to 2.1 million by the end of 2014.

That’s according to the World Wide Worx Online Retail in South Africa 2015 study. The study is due to be published next month, but preliminary findings have been released today.

QR codes have become popular through apps like BlackBerry’s BBM instant messaging service, which has the option of using a QR code to invite friends on the platform, and as a shortcut for setting up two-factor authentication with Google Authentication – although they’ve had a lot of bad press over the years as marketeers have attempted to force them onto every advert ever made. For mobile payments in South Africa, however, they’ve almost become the local equivalent of NFC contactless payments or M-PESA‘s SMS-based tech which have taken off overseas.

These days, QR codes are popping up almost everywhere across print advertising, posters and window displays throughout the country, offering brands a way to provide more information and engage with consumers without the limitation of space and time.

With QR code payment apps, a code is printed on the bottom of a till receipt, restaurant bill or – in Snapscan’s case – by the till. You simply take a photo of the QR code and tell the app how much you want to pay. Because the payment is processed entirely on Snapscan’s servers, many believe this is a safer way of paying for goods than handing over a debit card, for example. Snapscan can even be used to pay for parking in some Tsogo Sun resorts.

“Mobile payment systems are quickly becoming mainstream, and it will be fascinating to see how the more mechanical systems like QR Codes compete,” said World Wide Worx managing director Arthur Goldstuck. “Ideally, there should be room for any system, with each one finding its ideal niche. But there are no certainties in a sector that is moving so fast.”

A look at how the user demographics are broken down in Goldstuck’s report reveals that there’s no obvious gender divide when it comes to people using QR codes: 1.1-million were male and 1.04 million female. Nor, surprisingly, is there a massive bias towards a particular age group.

  • 15 – 24: 471 000 users
  • 25 – 34: 673 000 users
  • 35 – 44: 494 000
  • 45 – 65: 425 000
  • 65+:  88 000

Recent statistics published by Huawei suggest South Africa has around 20m smartphone users at present – which means more than one in ten is using QR codes.

[Image – CC by Paul Dunay]