Starbucks Card Mobile: This is What Progress Looks Like

Last week, Starbucks unveiled Starbucks Card Mobile, the company’s proprietary mobile payment solution.  Available as an app for iPhone, iPod touch and BlackBerry devices, Starbucks’ mobile payment application will now be accepted at over 7800 locations within the United States.

Starbucks Card Mobile

Starbucks Card Mobile: A Confusing First Impression

First Impressions

Most mobile application users have become accustomed to the simplicity and intuitive nature of apps, such as those from foursquare, GetGlue and Seesmic.  By contrast, the Starbucks app will likely leave many people wondering, “Well, what do I do now?” upon download.  There are options to add a Starbucks card number to the application, create a new Starbucks account and enter in credit card information.  The latter two features alone will not produce any kind of a prompt for making a payment.  Furthermore, the “Payments” section — which many new users are likely to visit hoping to pay for goods — instead provides both a video overview of Starbucks Card Mobile and an option to search for participating Starbucks locations.

The correct process for enabling Starbucks Card Mobile involves buying a plastic Starbucks card, registering it online at and then linking the physical card to the application through the “Cards” section.  Current cardholders can link existing cards.

The Interface and Payment Process

Once a plastic card has been linked to the app, the Starbucks mobile payment application is ready to use.  Other than the aforementioned “Payments” section — which is poorly-named — the Starbucks Card Mobile application is easy to navigate and use.  Within the “Cards” section, a “Touch to Pay” button appears once a link has been established to a physical card.  Other sections within the application allow customers to track any rewards they’ve earned, search for nearby Starbucks stores and manage account details such as billing information, passwords, etc.

Likewise, the process of paying for coffee is intuitive, quick and easy.  After placing an order, simply press the “Touch to Pay” button — which produces a bar code — and position your device in front of the cashier’s scanner.  The payment process takes less than 10 seconds.

Starbucks Mobile Commerce

Starbucks Mobile: Touch to Pay

One Small Step for Mobile, One Giant Leap for Mobile Commerce

Despite the ease-of-use associated with Starbucks Card Mobile, the technology behind the application is not the future of mobile commerce.  The next generation of smartphones from Apple and Google will employ Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows for wireless data transmission between two NFC-enabled devices.  In the very near future, most consumers will have phones that are pre-loaded with the capability to pay for groceries, coffee and nearly all other transactions without ever reaching for their wallets (see also:  NFC: 6 Ways It Could Change Our Daily Lives)

Starbucks, however, should be commended for helping to bring mobile payments into the mainstream.  Undoubtedly, by exposing its millions of customers to the new world of fast, easy mobile payments, Starbucks will expedite the adoption of wallet-less commerce.

While the efforts of companies such as Square, Bling Nation and Venmo have all helped push mobile commerce forward, none of them have the brand recognition, daily foot traffic and marketing might of Starbucks.  The release of Starbucks Card Mobile builds upon the small steps of these pioneering predecessors.

Thus, by the time NFC arrives as an option for the masses, a large, highly-caffeinated segment of the American public will already be prepared to take the giant leap of leaving their wallets behind.  Someday, debit cards, physical signatures and checks are likely to be but mere secondary payment options.  When that day arrives, we’ll have this offering from Starbucks to look back upon, as Dennis Stevenson notes, “as the beginning” of a new era of commerce.

Have you tried Starbucks Card Mobile?  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the application.  Let me know what you think!

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