Woman in bright yellow sweater scanning a QR code with her phone.
QR code payments don't necessitate POS system hardware, creating more ease and flexibility for customers as they pay. — Getty Images/ljubaphoto

If you look around, everyone has a smartphone in their hands. QR code payments let consumers use their mobile phones to scan to pay. Restaurant guests complete transactions while finishing their coffee, and spa clients click to pay before leaving their private rooms. This payment method is fast, convenient, and secure.

On the business side, you don’t need hardware or a website. QR code payments are cost-effective and easy to implement. Let’s explore what a QR code is, how to generate one, and how you can use it.

What are QR codes?

Quick response (QR) codes are machine-readable barcodes in a square shape. They have vertical and horizontal lines, dots, or patterns, which form the pixels of the scannable symbol. The two-dimensional barcode contains data, such as a website link, product details, promo offers, or payment information.

Originally, QR codes' flexibility enabled Japanese auto manufacturer Denso Wave to streamline production. QR codes don’t have the limitations of universal product codes (UPC), which can only be scanned in one direction. And when smartphones introduced cameras with scanning technologies, everyone had a pocket barcode scanner.

Small businesses could add QR codes to their toolkits to manage inventory and assets. Consumers can scan QR codes from in-store displays or computer screens to instantly find pricing details or score a limited-time offer. Adults can sign children up for activities using their preferred payment method or click to donate to a local charity.

[Read more: How Marketers Optimized QR Codes to Drive Engagement and Sales]

How do QR code payments work?

The QR code payment process is straightforward. A customer scans the QR code with their smartphone’s camera, and a notification with a link appears. They click on the payment link, which takes them to a web payment form where they complete the transaction.

Consequently, a QR code payment is similar to a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, but without the need for hardware. Like top POS solutions, you can offer many payment methods, including major credit cards and mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

You can also integrate scan-to-pay QR codes with your website or e-commerce platform. This approach is ideal for companies with existing sites as it helps customers feel secure when they see your branding and know they can trust the website. But you don’t need an online presence or checkout page to use QR code payment apps.

How to set up QR code payments

POS systems, e-commerce platforms, and reputable payment processing providers offer QR code payment solutions. The steps to generate a QR code for payment vary by service, but the process is relatively simple.

Here’s how to create a scan-to-pay QR code:

  • Select a provider: First, see if your current POS, e-commerce, or processing service supports QR code payments. If not, compare merchant account solutions like Helcim, Clover, or Payment Depot.
  • Apply for an account: Open an account to process online payments. Some providers, like Square or Stripe, approve applications almost instantly, whereas others require more information but could offer lower rates.
  • Open your dashboard: Most account providers supply an online dashboard with QR code generators. If not, you can find this feature in the tools or payments section of your portal.
  • Add payment information: Enter your merchant identification number and other required details, such as the transaction amount or payout account.
  • Generate the payment QR code: Most services have a clickable button to generate or create the code. Once you finish entering the details, simply click the button to finish.
  • Test the code: Always scan the QR code before using it for customers. Verify that it sends you to the correct page and follows the desired checkout flow.

The above example is for a general QR code you can display almost anywhere. Customers can point their cellphone at the code to scan and pay on in-store displays, at farmers markets, or on your website. However, you can generate QR codes for one-time payments for individual clients on invoices or when booking a service.

[Read more: How New Digital Payments Help Cut Lines and Boost Customer Experience]

QR code payments benefit both customers and small businesses. This method is contactless, fast, and affordable.

Top QR payment apps

There is no shortage of QR code payment apps. Many payment processing companies offer QR code generators. Examples include Stripe and Helcim. You can sign up for a merchant account to accept credit cards online, in-store, or through QR codes. As your business grows, the payment system should integrate with new software, such as your e-commerce or POS solution.

Alternatively, you can select a POS or e-commerce platform with built-in payment processing and QR code tools. Several restaurant POS services have native QR code generators, including Clover, Lightspeed, and Toast. Diners can place an order and pay through Toast and Lightspeed, whereas they can scan the QR code at the bottom of Clover receipts to pay.

E-commerce platforms like Wix let you create QR codes for payment links. Likewise, GoDaddy has a payment app that allows businesses to choose QR codes as a payment method when ringing up a customer’s order.

PayPal and Venmo support QR code payments. For those looking to add QR codes to their invoices, Zoho Books offers native scan-to-pay QR codes, whereas you can use a third-party integration to generate QR codes for QuickBooks Online invoices.

Here are four QR payment apps to consider:

  • Stax: Designed for high-volume sellers, Stax integrates seamlessly with existing e-commerce and POS systems while providing pay links, QR code payment tools, and invoicing solutions.
  • Payment Depot: With no set-up or cancellation fees, Payment Depot is a great option for accepting mobile, contactless, and traditional payment methods.
  • Clover: This POS vendor offers flat-rate transaction pricing and bundled hardware plans for retail and restaurant businesses. Clover’s scalable subscriptions streamline checkouts with QR codes on receipts.
  • Helcim: With interchange-plus rates and tons of free features, including free hosted payment pages, QR codes, and invoicing tools, Helcim is ideal for small businesses looking for an alternative to flat rates.

Benefits of using QR codes for payments

QR code payments benefit both customers and small businesses. This method is contactless, fast, and affordable. According to Juniper Research, QR code payments accounted for $2.4 trillion in global spending in 2023 and are projected to rise to over $3 trillion by 2025. In addition, Deloitte reported that experts estimate that 29% of global smartphone users will scan QR codes to pay by 2025.

The top advantages of QR codes for payments include:

  • No hardware required: You can accept credit and debit card payments without a card reader or terminal.
  • Able to serve multiple customers: Shoppers can pay from their smartphones without a cashier, allowing your business to handle unlimited buyers.
  • Secure transactions: The customer’s smartphone has native authentication methods (face or fingerprint scan and passcode), and processing goes through the card network.
  • Seamless in-person experiences: Forget the swipe, dip, or tap. Customers point their phones to pay. They can use their preferred method without navigating an unfamiliar terminal.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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