QR Codes: What Are They and How to Generate One in 2024

QR Codes: What Are They and How to Generate One in 2024
Find out how QR codes can be used for business. Square allows you to generate QR codes to be used for ordering, contactless payments & product information.
by Stephanie Vozza Jan 01, 2023 — 4 min read
QR Codes: What Are They and How to Generate One in 2024

If you’ve been out to dinner recently, you may have been asked to scan a QR code with your smartphone to access the restaurant’s menu. Or maybe you’ve noticed QR codes popping up to facilitate contact-free payments. The image-based internet shortcut, which stands for Quick Response Code, has become a popular tool that can help you improve customer experiences, from ordering to contactless payments and product information.

What is a QR code?

The QR code has been around since 1994, when Japanese company Denso Wave created it. The company was looking to improve barcodes with an informative 2D design. Initially, QR codes were primarily used to track production in manufacturing.

Decades later, brands trotted QR codes as a marketing tool that were readable with an app on a smartphone by simply scanning an image. They never really took off because they were cumbersome for consumers and business cards were still popular.

Things changed in 2017 when Apple enabled the iPhone camera to read QR codes without a third-party app. Android quickly followed suit. Faster wireless networks made the codes more effective for instant information sharing. And in 2020, QR codes have become an integral way for business owners to serve customers while social distancing during COVID-19.

Several big brands are leveraging QR codes to improve buying experiences for consumers. For example, Coca-Cola created contact-free soda fountains that use QR codes to pour beverages. Nike and other major retailers use QR codes throughout their stores, and many restaurants and entertainment venues across Australia are now offering QR code ordering systems that reduce wastage on disposable menus.

How to use QR codes at your business

How to best use QR codes will likely depend on your industry. Restaurants, for example, can create them to improve ordering for customers, while retail stores can generate codes to support a contactless checkout for purchases.

Here are six ideas for getting started with QR codes:

Facilitate safer payments
During the COVID-19 pandemic, safety is on everyone’s mind. QR codes help protect customers and staff by reducing contact. Buyers can scan a code and pay their bill directly from their mobile device. Restaurant and store staff won’t need to touch credit cards or cash, and servers can also collect contact-free tips from customers.

Provide touch-free menus
Some areas now require that businesses do away with shared physical materials, like menus, and provide disposable options to provide a safer experience for customers. However, single-use items create waste. QR codes can direct customers to a contactless online menu so they can order right from their phone. They also allow restaurants to update menu items based on availability and pricing instantly.

Create interactive ad campaigns
In addition to keeping customers safe, QR codes can assist with marketing efforts. For example, adding a custom QR code to print campaigns can help further their effectiveness by giving consumers access to additional information, such as videos or a map to the retailer’s location.

Enhance the customer experience
QR codes can also improve a shopper’s in-store experience. According to the Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey 2018, 90% of Australians now own a smartphone and there’s no doubt that a large number of these take their phones shopping with them. By placing QR codes on a product or shelf, customers can access additional information about the item, see it in use, or view a slideshow of colour or design choices.

QR codes can also direct shoppers to websites that provide the story behind the product, such as its history or information about the creator or founder. And retailers can further customise the buying experience by providing customers with an easy way to gather product information, reviews, price comparisons, and recommendations.

Grow your email list
With Square Marketing you can collect customers email consent in person with a QR Code. Tip: Try displaying your QR code at checkout, at the counter, around the store at key touch points or even where your customers wait to collect their coffee.

Build a following
Retailers can also leverage QR codes as a way to build customer relationships. Codes can direct customers to review sites that ask for feedback or social media profiles that prompt a follow. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have QR codes that allow users to follow retailers’ accounts when they’re scanned. Store owners can also set up QR codes that direct consumers to sign up for their loyalty program or newsletter.

How to generate a QR code for payments

As more businesses open, customers are expecting more touch-free ways to complete their purchase. The Square QR code generator can help you accept payments and reduce contact between customers and staff. Here’s how to get started.

1. Provide contactless payment in-person via Square POS

What it does: Allows customers to pay at your Square POS using their phone for a touch-free payment method.

Who can use it: Any type of business conducting sales in person.

How it works:

  1. Open the Square Point of Sale app.
  2. Add item(s) to cart or key in any amount and hit checkout.
  3. Select the Pay with QR code option and a QR code will pop up on your screen.
  4. Customer scans QR code and is directed to a simple checkout page where they can enter their own credit card details.
  5. If fitting, customers can even leave a tip directly from their phone, no need to touch the POS.


2. Provide contactless Self-Serve Ordering via Square Online

What it does: Allows customers to order and pay by QR code in restaurants.

Who can use it: Full and quick service restaurants.

How it works:

  1. Create or log into your online store.
  2. Update menu offerings, then generate and print QR code for signs, tables, or anywhere you want diners to place their order.
  3. Diners scan the QR code to bring up your menu. Then they can:
    • Select items and modifiers
    • Add special requests
    • Place their order
    • Pay directly from their device with all major credit cards.
  4. Orders are automatically sent to your POS or KDS.
  5. Service staff deliver food to diners using a ticket with guest name and table number.

self serve ordering gif

3. Provide contactless payment in person via Square Online Checkout

What it does: Allows customers to use a printed QR code to purchase an item from their phone.

Who can use it: Anyone selling a few items, offering a specific service, or taking donations.

How it works:

  1. Create a checkout link from your online dashboard or in the SPOS app for one item.
  2. Print QR code.
  3. Place QR code anywhere you want customers to access it.
  4. Customer scans QR code and is taken to a simple checkout page to pay with all major credit cards.

square qr code

The QR code is an important part of today’s retail and restaurant operations, providing active ways for customers to stay safe and engage with brands. They can also help you deliver the types of experiences customers want. In other words, QR codes make it effortless for shoppers to engage with your brand by simply opening the camera app on their smartphone.

Stephanie Vozza
Stephanie Vozza is an experienced writer who specializes in small business and retail. She has been a regular columnist for FastCompany.com for five years, and her byline has appeared in Inc., Entrepreneur, and Parade.


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