It’s hard to visit a supermarket without seeing barcodes. But soon, shoppers at Kroger will run into another type of scannable codes -- one that’s already ubiquitous in China.

Kroger Pay, the grocery chain’s brand new payment app, uses QR codes.

At the checkout line, a customer enters a personal PIN on their phone -- or scans their fingerprint or face -- to bring up a unique code. Hold it up, and the cashier will scan the code with a handheld reader. Money is then drawn from any debit or credit card linked to the app.

This picture is totally not staged. (Picture: Kroger)

Payment apps based on QR codes have existed for a while -- but they are far more popular in China than anywhere else. Over 80% of smartphone users there pay on mobile, with the two dominant apps both relying on QR codes. Street vendors and taxi drivers use QR codes to take payments. People scan QR codes to order in restaurants or swipe into the subway.

On the other hand, the QR code is a lot less prevalent in the US. Less than a third of American smartphone owners use mobile payment, according to research firm eMarketer. And many of them use the likes of Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay -- all of which adopt wireless tech like NFC instead of the low-tech QR code.

A fish vendor who takes payment by the QR code in Shenzhen, China. (Picture: South China Morning Post)

But there could be a reason why Kroger is jumping on the QR code bandwagon.

QR codes are cheap to adopt and easy to use. Retailers just need to upgrade their scanners, instead of purchasing expensive NFC readers. And customers only need a smartphone that has an internet connection, rather than pricier ones equipped with NFC.

Last year, it was estimated some 22 million Americans used Apple Pay. But as impressive as it may seem, Apple Pay wasn’t the most popular payment app. Instead, that title belongs to the Starbucks app, which uses a 2D rectangular code similar to the QR code.

Customers love the Starbucks app because it’s linked to the shop’s rewards program, according to eMarketer’s Cindy Liu. It’s little surprise then that Kroger Pay is also tied to the chain’s loyalty program. Walmart, Target and other merchants have also adopted a similar strategy with their code-based payment apps.

Kroger says it has launched the app in Columbus, Ohio. Nationwide rollout is expected later this year in all stores (except the gone, but not forgotten, Murder Kroger).