Skip to content
Home » Blog » Does Every Small Business Need a QR Code?

Does Every Small Business Need a QR Code?

Person scanning a QR code for business use

You know QR codes, yes? Those little squares with patterns of dots and ink blots. You see them on packages, on flyers, on TV, and even at the grocery checkout. Lots of businesses seem to have them these days. Some QR codes even have a business’s logo in the middle. QR codes for business use seem all the rage these days.

So, what, exactly, are QR codes? How do you use QR codes for business? Where can you get a QR code? How much do QR codes cost? How important are they for running a business?

We found out for you.

What are QR Codes?

Most people have seen a QR code or two. Believe it or not, QR codes are a type of barcode, even though there are no bars in those squares.

When people picture barcodes in their head, they usually see the rectangles with stripes of different widths. Those are called UPC codes. They’re also known as 1-D barcodes. If your business makes a physical item that you want to sell to retail stores, you’ll need to get an UPC code. For more information on UPC codes, see our detailed article.

QR codes are technically 2-D barcodes. In fact, QR codes are a subtype of 2-D barcode. The QR stands for quick response.

There are other squares with dots and inkblots that are not QR codes but are still 2-D barcodes. Some of these 2-D barcodes are proprietary and others have specific uses like tracking bees. For examples of all sorts of 2-D barcodes, see this Wikipedia section.

QR codes are easily distinguishable from the other types of 2-D barcodes. They have three small, darker squares on the upper right, upper left, and lower left corners of the barcode. If you look carefully, you’ll also see an even smaller white square near (but not right at) the lower right corner of the QR code.

QR codes are probably the most widely used type of 2-D barcode today.

What QR Codes Do

QR codes encode information. In fact, that little square can encode a lot of information. That’s what makes QR codes so flexible for so many uses.

There are several versions of QR codes. Each version has a maximum amount of information that can be stored. The type that stores the most information is called version 40-L, and it can store up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters. In contrast, a Tweet can only accommodate 280 characters.

Because QR codes can store so much information, it has a lot of uses. QR codes for business use include on marketing materials, for vCards, or even as a link to menus.

Today’s most popular uses for QR codes include storing information such as:

  • URL
  • vCard
  • Plain text
  • SMS message
  • Email
  • WiFi login
  • Images
  • MP3
  • Cryptocurrency payment request

QR codes also contain a lot of redundancy for error correction. You can destroy up to 30% of some QR codes and your code reader will still be able to read all the information stored in the code.

This adds even more opportunities to use QR codes for businesses, especially for marketing. Some businesses insert their logos in the middle of the QR code. It draws attention to the QR code, but doesn’t affect the scanner’s ability to read the encoded information.

Static QR Codes vs. Dynamic QR Codes

There are two subtypes of QR codes: static and dynamic.

The Static QR Code

Information in a static QR code is hard-coded into the dots and ink blots. For example, you can code the URL into the QR code. The patterns of the QR code, when decoded, will say “” You can’t change the QR code’s pattern, so you can’t change the URL.

As time passes, we can change the content and layout of our homepage. But, whoever scans the QR code will always go to They will never go to, for example,

It’s the same if you encode text, a vCard, or your social media handle. The QR code reader will always translate the dots and blots to show the words encoded in the pattern. You can never change those words.

The Dynamic QR Code

However, sometimes, you might want to have one QR code but change the information associated with the code from time to time. This is especially convenient if you use your QR code for marketing campaigns. You can have just one QR code to pass out, but the information associated with the code can change as you run different campaigns. To do this, you’ll need a dynamic QR code.

For example, let’s say you run an online store and you have an Item of the Day sale every day. You can, of course, make a static QR code to a landing page on your website. Then, you change the landing page every day to show the item you have for sale on that particular day.

But, you can also make a dynamic QR code. Then, instead of having to change the landing page every day, you only have to change the link to point to different product pages for each Item of the Day.

Yes, we know that if you’re tech savvy enough, you can probably make a DIY dynamic QR code. First, encode a static QR code that points to a landing page on your website. Then, have the landing page automatically redirect to whatever other page you desire. All you need to do is to change the redirect URL to make the QR code “dynamic.”

But most small business people are not quite so tech savvy. Or don’t have the time to set things up. In that case, you could pay for a dynamic QR code. Usually, the price also includes usage tracking, so you know exactly how many people scanned your QR code.

Where Can You Get a QR Code for Business Use and How Much Do They Cost?

Unlike UPC codes where there’s really one source in the world to get the code, you can get a QR code anywhere.

QR codes were first invented in 1994 and was patented by Denso Wave (a subsidiary of Denso, which spun out of Toyota in 1949). Denso Wave does not enforce its QR code-related patent rights as long as you construct the code following the JIS or ISO standards.

As a result, there are a lot of websites that can make a QR code for business or personal use. Best of all, they all tend to offer static QR codes for free. These companies make their money by selling dynamic QR codes.

We haven’t researched the best provider of dynamic QR codes, but may do so in the future. We did do some quick research on free QR code sites to find a few to recommend to you.

There are a lot of free QR code generators out there. Some are a little bit scary. For instance, we found one that had no ownership information. We don’t like the idea that they take information from you, turn it into code that you don’t know if it contains additional malicious information, and give you no information about them in return.

So, be careful when you search for free QR code generators and be picky about which ones you use.

The ones we found that seem safe to use are:

These sites, along with some others, are now owned by the URL shortener company Bitly. Because we know that Bitly is a legitimate company, we think these QR code generators are safe to use.

Do You Need Special Equipment to Read a QR Code?

Probably you know the answer to this one already.

Yes, if you use QR codes for business and want to use dedicated scanners, you can buy them. But most smartphones also come with QR code reading software already installed. All you have to do is to access your camera, point it at the QR code, and the camera will automatically do the rest, like take you to the URL encoded in the QR code or show you a vCard.

Are QR Codes for Business Must-Haves or Are They Just Cool to Have?

QR codes are free. It doesn’t make sense for us to tell a small business that they shouldn’t get this cool, free item and use it in marketing materials. But that’s just it—QR codes are typically used in marketing. They point to your website or maybe a coupon or maybe a contest. You use them to generate interest in your product or service. Hopefully, that interest turns into a sale.

Yes, QR codes can be used for mobile payments, tickets, and even as a business card. But, often, the more specialized uses require time and money to set up. There are cheaper and more conventional ways to do the same thing already.

So, should you get a QR code? If you can think of an interesting way to use them and it doesn’t cost too much to give out the code, why not? (E.g. you’re getting ready to print a new batch of marketing flyers and it costs little to nothing to add the code.) It looks cool and gives you another way to advertise your products.

But if it costs extra and/or is inconvenient to add the code, we think you should hold off. There’s no reason why you have to add a QR code to your marketing materials right now, or maybe ever. So, use your judgment. It’ll be OK either way.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?