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Do Quick Response Codes Enhance or Hinder Surveys?
Methodology Blog

Do Quick Response Codes Enhance or Hinder Surveys?

Although marketers have historically used Quick Response (QR) codes -- square black and white barcodes -- as marketing tools, survey researchers have often wondered if using QR codes on survey invitations could make it easier for some respondents to access surveys (Dillman, Smyth & Christian, 2014; Link et al., 2014). For example, instead of typing in a URL and/or an access code to start the survey, participants could just scan the QR code and begin. The survey may also appear more appealing or relevant to some respondents if the survey invitations incorporate this technology.

Despite these hypothesized advantages, there may also be drawbacks to using QR codes to invite people to take a survey online. Some people may not know how to use a QR code or have a QR code reader on their mobile device. QR codes may also deter potential respondents who are not technologically savvy.

Offering a QR code in combination with other methods of completing the survey may also depress response rates, as some research has shown that offering too many options for accessing a survey can actually harm response rates (Millar and Dillman, 2011).

In the sections that follow, we discuss some considerations associated with implementing QR codes on survey invitations and share the results of an experiment that Gallup conducted with inviting respondents to a survey via a QR code.

The Basics of QR Codes

A QR code is a square barcode of encoded information that connects someone with a website or other information. When a user scans the QR code with an appropriate application on their mobile phone, the application directs them to the information encoded in the QR code.

Companies can encode many types of information and processes within a QR code, such as a URL that contains direct access to a website or electronic resources, the ability to automatically send an email or SMS text message, opening an app, delivery of audio or video files, or loading a phone number to prompt instant callback. Many companies print QR codes on marketing materials to provide consumers with access to information about the company and its products and services.

Using QR Codes in Surveys

Survey invitations can include a QR code that directs respondents to a web-based survey. The advantage to inviting potential respondents in this manner is that they do not have to type in a web address to access the survey. The disadvantage is that potential respondents must have a QR code reader app installed on their phone. Android phones come with a QR code reader, but iPhone users must install a QR code app.

Many surveys require an access code, which prevents respondents from completing a survey multiple times and may allow researchers to tie a completed survey to information contained on the sample frame. QR codes in combination with unique access codes can be managed in one of two ways. The first option is to set up one QR code that links to the survey. Respondents then enter a unique access code that they received in their survey invitation.

The second option is to generate a unique QR code for each respondent. In this case, each respondent's QR code has an access code embedded in it so the respondent can access the survey without having to type a URL or access code into the browser. The disadvantage of this option is that a unique QR and access code must be generated for every respondent in the sample, which can become more costly and more complex to manage because every barcode will be unique.

QR Code Cost

Many QR code generators are available online. The cost of using a QR code generator varies by the number of each type of QR codes that a company uses.

The greater the number of QR codes, the higher the expense. Creating one QR code for all respondents is free, but generating thousands of QR codes with embedded access codes will typically cost money.

Gallup's Analysis: QR Code Study

Gallup completed an experiment on the use of QR codes as a point of survey access. Gallup contacted 7,500 respondents via a nationally representative mail survey. All participants could respond via mail or by using one of three ways to access the web version of the survey. The study randomly assigned respondents to one of three web access options:

  • Group 1: A traditional URL respondents must type out in order to access the web survey
  • Group 2: A QR code
  • Group 3: A QR code and the web link

Image showing survey instructions for Groups 1 to 3.

Gallup found no statistically significant differences in total response rates across the three groups. Overall, only 4% of all participants who submitted responses to the survey chose to access the survey via the QR code and adding a QR code as an additional way to access the web survey did not result in significantly higher response rates or a higher number of web completions. In fact, the number of surveys completed via web was nearly identical between the group who received only a URL (15.3%) and the group who received a URL and a QR code (15.0%). Also, the group that had only a QR code to access the web survey had a lower number of web completions than the other two groups.

Web Survey Completion by Access Type
Group 1: Mail & Web Link Group 2: Mail & QR Group 3: Mail & QR & Web Link
Number of completed surveys 424 455 453
Overall response rate 17.0% 18.2% 18.1%
% of completions via mail 84.7% 91.0% 85.0%
% of completions via web link 15.3% N/A 11.7%
% of completions via QR code N/A 9.0% 3.3%

After examining overall response rates by age, gender and education, Gallup found no significant demographic differences between the groups. Availability of a QR code did not change the overall demographic composition of the respondents in each treatment group -- just the method with which they chose to access the survey.

When comparing those who used a QR code to access the survey to those who used a different method to access the survey, we found differences in age and education. Respondents who used QR codes to access the survey had higher education and were younger than those who did not use QR codes to access the survey. However, because of the extremely low sample size for the total number of individuals who accessed the survey using a QR code, it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.

Conclusion: Low Value in Using a QR Code

This study indicates that the costs may outweigh the potential benefits of adding a QR code to a survey. In addition to finding no improvement in response rates with the use of a QR code, using a QR code may also increase the cost of the survey and complexity to implement, especially if using a unique code for every respondent.

Gallup's findings do not support the hypothesis that including a QR code is useful for attracting certain types of respondents or harder-to-reach populations. For online surveys, offering only QR code access to the survey will decrease overall response rates; therefore, when using a QR code, the web link and access code should always be provided to respondents with the QR code.

Using a QR code for a survey may have value in some situations. For example, QR codes may be useful for employee surveys in workplaces where some employees do not have regular access to email. In such circumstances, signs with QR codes in break rooms or other common areas may provide employees with a convenient way to access the survey from their phone. They may also be effective in situations in which the survey has a long URL or access code and it is not possible to shorten either (these situations are rare). However, these are hypothetical scenarios, and the effectiveness or benefits of using QR codes in these situations is a possible area of future research.

Dillman, D., Smyth, J., and Christian, L. (2014). Internet, Phone, Mail and Mixed-Mode Surveys. The Tailored Design Method. Wiley: Hoboken, New Jersey.

Link, M. W., Murphy, J., Schober, M. F., Buskirk, T.D., Hunter Childs, J., and Langer Tesfaye, C. (2014). "Mobile Technologies for Conducting, Augmenting, and Potentially Replacing Surveys. Executive Summary of the AAPOR Task Force on Emerging Technologies in Public Opinion Research." Public Opinion Quarterly 78:779-787.

Millar, M. and Dillman, D. 2011. Improving Response to Web and Mixed-Mode Surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75: 249-269.

Read more from Gallup's Methodology Blog and visit our Methodology Center.


Jenny Marlar, Ph.D., is Director of Survey Research at Gallup.

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