The Creative Technologist Blog

Here is an ongoing battle between QR codes and NFC for contextual triggers such as contactless payment, digital menus for restaurants, advertising, and other omnichannel implementations in retail. According to multiple studies published in 2020 and 2021 analyzing the efficacy of both technologies in different contexts, we now know that customers generally prefer NFC-based technologies when social influence and speed are primary factors in the customer's decision-making process.

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TL;DR

NFC is better when speed is the more important factor, such as train stations.
QR codes win out in slower settings like restaurants.
Bluetooth is acceptable in experiential installations.
Manual service is better for engagements that require elevated levels of trust.
Photo by Shawn Fields / Unsplash

Social Influence: More Than Just Peer Pressure

When people hear the phrase "social influence," the first thing that comes to mind is a group of friends engaging in a particular action, leading some individuals within that group to do the same thing due to social pressure. In retail, that is only half the battle. The other major component is the in-store context, such as advertisements and promotional material to encourage engagement.

In-store context to promote behavior is nothing new. The importance of visual merchandising has existed for over a century. However, many retailers still don't consider the importance of placement when choosing where to install technologies like QR codes and NFC chips. According to a study published in the International Journal of Trade, Economics and Finance, Vol. 12, No. 4, point-of-purchase promotion of both QR codes and NFCs resulted in a significant increase in intention to use those technologies.

That same study also found that social media influence and peer acceptance lead to more contactless technologies. Peer acceptance in person within a group is exceptionally effective at promoting behavioral intent, according to a study conducted by the Management and Science University in Malaysia.

Interestingly, an experiment attempting to replicate the results of the Malaysian study failed to see the same results when evaluating the efficacy of social influence on just QR codes alone. However, the study's initial results were affirmed by a joint research effort between Mississippi State University and Cheongju University when using NFC tags alone. The results imply QR codes are less susceptible to social influence than other contactless technologies such as NFC‍.

Photo by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Speed Is King

That said, the most significant influence on behavioral intent when engaging with either NFC codes or QR codes observed across all the above studies is performance expectancy and effort expectancy. The likelihood a customer will engage with a contactless experience depends on the value customers believe they will get from that experience compared to other alternatives against the effort they must invest in getting that experience.

Expectations concerning effort in face-paced or stressful environments where failures to meet effort expectancy can result in negative social pressure. A comparative study analyzing the impact of different contactless ticketing systems in train stations across multiple countries found that RFID had the fastest queue time than QR codes, Bluetooth, web-based, and manual methods. Those same train lines with shorter queues correlated with higher satisfaction than those that did not. From what we know about the earlier studies, we can infer that the speed of RFID tickets possibly positively impacted the perceived experience. On the other hand, QR codes were much slower and had a much higher effort expectancy while failing to meet performance expectancy more frequently.‍

Mobile Payment using Payment Terminal. Picture taken bij Jonas Leupe (www.brandstof.studio) for In The Pocket (www.inthepocket.com)
Photo by Jonas Leupe / Unsplash

Final Thoughts

The table below shows the four compared interaction methods within the linked studies, their correlation with UTM7 factors, and their impact on behavioral intent. As a thought experiment, let's assume you are making a ticketing system for a train. You discover that the number one factor in your customer's experience is the speed at which they can purchase their ticket and board the train. Since speed is a form of effort expectancy, we would refer to the table above and choose a solution that correlates positively or has no correlation with effort expectancy. QR codes and Bluetooth solutions would not be a good fit since the behavioral intent of those solutions go down as effort expectancy goes up. We have the only two options for this hypothetical would be NFC and manual solutions.

UTM7 Performance Expectancy Social Influence Facilitating Conditions Hedonic Motivation Habit Trust Effort Expectancy
Bluetooth None Decrease Increase Sharp Increase Decrease None Decrease
RFID / NFC Sharp Increase Sharp Increase Increase None Increase Sharp Decrease None
QR Codes Increase None None Increase Sharp Increase None Sharp Decrease
Manual Sharp Increase None Increase None Sharp Increase Increase Increase

These results also reflect what the Augmented team has found anecdotally in experiences we have built for our clients. However, the lack of longitudinal studies showing the adoption rate cross comparing different contactless solutions makes it challenging to attribute the magnitude of specific triggers to behavioral intent.

We suggest that retailers offer QR codes and NFC experiences where a customer might consider time a primary factor in performance expectancy.

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