Experts say a behaviour-influencing strategy used by marketers could boost QR scanning, as daily app data suggests Covid-19 complacency is setting back in after Wellington's near-miss.
In a think-piece published today, Otago University researchers Professor Janet Hoek, Dr Philip Gendall and Professor Nick Wilson discuss how a concept called "nudging" could encourage more people to reach for their phones when they see a QR code.
Currently, the Ministry of Health recommended businesses and other public spaces display A4-sized QR codes to the left near building entrances, at around 130cm off the ground, in spaces that were easy for people to reach.
A recent audit found all supermarkets and most churches examined had adopted this advice, although fewer restaurants, bars and cafes had.
The researchers suggested QR codes could be made more visible if they were coloured more brightly, and if more of them were distributed around stores – something the ministry encouraged business owners to do.
"Locating additional QR codes at counters or checkouts, the places where people stop when making a purchase, could simplify scanning," they said.
"For example, people may already be using their phones to pay for an item or read messages and could easily scan a QR code located next to the Eftpos machine or alongside the aisles where they queue ahead of purchasing."
They said restaurants and cafes could also place QR codes at counters, tables and on menus, bus operators could place them on the backs of seats and on doors, and takeaway outlets could even copy them onto packaging.
"These very simple measures could reduce the physical and time cost of scanning, which will make it easier for scanning to become habitual."
Further, they said staff and drivers could helpfully point out the codes to people as they arrived.
"Everyday conversations such as these would remain casual and retail staff, drivers and hosts, would not become responsible for monitoring scanning," they said.
"Nonetheless, simply by incorporating a reminder to scan in the everyday conversations they have with customers, these staff could play a core role in reminding people to scan and promoting point-of-entry compliance."
The researchers said "nudging" could similarly help encourage mask use.
Dr Andrew Chen, a research fellow at University of Auckland-based Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, said many businesses had already come up with clever solutions like printing codes in menus.
"A simple prompt from staff members to sign-in is very powerful, because it helps trigger the part of the brain that knows that we should be signing-in and applies a bit of friendly social pressure," he said.
"As the researchers note, the staff members shouldn't become responsible for monitoring scanning, as we wouldn't want those staff members to bear the brunt of folks who really don't want to sign-in."
Yet, as powerful as nudge theory was, Chen questioned how we should "nudge the nudgers".
"In this case, changing the environment that users are entering isn't necessarily up to the Government, but up to the individual venues and businesses that people are entering."
Short of a mandate on all businesses, Chen wondered how it could be ensured that QR codes were printed in colour, given that business operators were just as susceptible to Covid fatigue and complacency as other Kiwis.
"We have seen lots of effort from business and industry groups to get their members on board, so if we think that there are still actions that businesses need to take to encourage usage of NZ Covid Tracer QR codes, then we probably need some different approaches there too."
Results from a just-published survey suggested nearly three quarters of Kiwis either strongly agreed or agreed that scanning should be compulsory on public transport.
Another 57 per cent were in favour of it being mandatory in workplaces – and two-thirds agreed that scanning should be required in public places like bars and restaurants, which was something the Government was now considering.
Yet data recorded daily by the Ministry of Health still suggested not nearly enough Kiwis were using the app.
Despite nearly 2.9 million people now being registered users, scan numbers had fallen back since Wellington's run-in with Covid-19 last month.
When Wellington moved to alert level 2 on June 23, scan numbers surged from 572,682 to 895,758, and then climbed higher to 961,807 the next day.
But since dropping back down to alert level 1, totals had hovered closer to 700,000 – and over the most recently-logged period, from midnight Saturday, just over 625,000 scans were recorded.
Regularly using the app was critical in being able to give contact tracing services a 14-day log of personal movement and, just as importantly, it allowed them to track down others who might have been exposed to the virus.
New modelling published last month suggested that contact tracing could cut the spread of a New Zealand Covid-19 outbreak by as much as 60 per cent.