Optimized for different use-cases, NFC tags and QR codes each have their strengths and weaknesses. Here we break down each technology, what it does well, what it lacks, and where each works best.
September 25, 2023
While QR codes and NFC tags can do similar things, it's important to understand their differences when choosing to use one or both in your next project. There is no "one size fits all" technology, both NFC and QR have their strengths and weaknesses. Here we explore the nuances of the two so you can make the most informed decision when enabling your things with digital content.
We've also put together a quiz that asks about your specific use case and recommends the technology that's best for you.
Invented in 1994 the Quick Response, or QR, code was designed to be a better barcode; one that could be scanned at high speed from any angle with a phone. Storing small strings of information (usually a URL), QR codes have become a ubiquitous way to access web content while on the go.
QR codes are a form of barcode that can be scanned with a phone. They are usually encoded to a URL and provide users digital content related to a physical thing.
QR codes have deep smartphone market penetration and are widely recognized by the public as a way to access web content.
QR codes also add no additional printing costs. As a result, QR codes are a great way to engage customers through existing printed material, whether that be a magazine, poster, store-display, product packaging, tag, or label.
While QR codes have many advantages, they also have drawbacks. First, they require enough light for a phone camera to “see” them. This can be challenging at night or in a dimly lit room. Similarly, they can be damaged either by being marked, bent, or scratched. Because QR codes are usually printed on packaging or labels they are generally discarded after an item has been opened. Finally, QR codes can easily be duplicated and shared, and so are not typically a good solution for anti-counterfeit or other sensitive applications.
Because QR codes are printed, they work best on signage, packaging and labels. The technology can be used to enrich the buying experience during the pre-purchase and purchase stages of a buyer's journey as well as during branded events.
Starting before the sale, printed media can be enabled to provide branded content beyond what is possible with static print.
In-store product packaging can provide recommendations and product information with a simple QR code to ensure customers understand the value of a product in hand.
During unboxing QR codes on packaging or labels can provide care-instructions or assembly instructions to make sure a customer gets the most out of their purchase.
Invented in 2002, Near Field Communication, or NFC, is a connecting technology based on RFID. Designed to transmit short strings of information (usually a URL) to an interacting phone, NFC tags require no internal power and usually take the form of a sticker. While their appearance may seem unimpressive, their power comes from simplicity because they can be used where other technologies cannot.
For more information on NFC see our Complete Guide to NFC.
Even though NFC is a relatively new technology it has seen rapid adoption across the smartphone industry. Android has long been known to have NFC scanning capabilities. Since 2012 the number of NFC compatible Android devices has exploded. Now nearly every Android phone supports NFC scanning.
Like most things Apple, they decided to take a different approach, waiting to launch NFC with Apple Pay in 2016. Since then the iPhone has seen consistent NFC enhancements year after year. The release of iOS 11 saw the iPhone 7 and newer gain NFC read support through an app and the latest iPhone XS and XR have the ability to scan NFC from the home-screen without the need to install an app.
See our iPhone compatibility guide to learn more.
NFC’s rapid adoption is a result of the technology’s many advantages. Consumers often see the technology as desirable when compared to QR codes, with NFC-enabled products becoming highly sought after.
Because NFC tags include a secure element to thwart duplication, they enable product authentication and the ability to serve exclusive content when combined with the Blue Bite platform. This functionality is simply not possible with QR codes.
Finally because NFC tags can be embedded into consumer goods, and are not discarded after the sale, they are a highly effective way to deploy engaging experiences throughout the entire customer journey. For the first time brands can engage customers after the sale with value-add content and gain customer feedback to inform better product decisions. As a result, NFC extends the value chain for a product.
This additional cost comes from the NFC tags themselves, which usually run between $0.10 - $0.20 a piece, plus any additional costs to embed.
The added power of NFC means the technology works best when embedded into consumer products - transforming a product into an authentic connection between brands and customers. This connection can be leveraged throughout the entire customer journey, from pre-purchase to post-purchase.
With NFC-enabled products brands can provide branded content directly to customers in store long before a sales rep can take note. Once a customer understands the value of a product and is ready to purchase they can skip the checkout line, instead purchasing the item right from their phone.
After the sale, brands can provide value-add content to consumers to ensure they get the most out of their purchase. Finally, brands can use this new stream of customer insight to fuel future product decisions.
When choosing to implement either of these technologies it is important to consider how they will be managed at scale. Regardless of technology, each requires items be uniquely encoded to ensure proper content delivery and accurate reporting. With production runs easily requiring thousands or millions of unique items, each with their own unique attributes and assets, a robust tool is needed to keep track of everything.
Blue Bite makes it easy to build a robust, end-to-end Connected Product strategy using NFC or QR.