Starbucks Rolls Out M-Commerce That Can’t Really Buy Anything

Written by Evan Schuman
October 1st, 2009

It’s becoming the quintessential image of the 2009-era Mobile-Commerce app from major retailers. It’s attractive, stable, slick and a little fun. But because of a well-merited petrifying fear of letting a mobile device actually talk with POS, it often can do virtually nothing, at least in terms of consummating transactions or even making it easier for consumers to make purchases. Starbucks’ new mobile app is the poster child for such beautiful but ultimately impotent M-Commerce efforts.

In late September, Starbucks introduced two very different M-Commerce applications, both designed for the iPhone. One was for a very limited trial, impacting eight stores in Seattle and eight more in and around Silicon Valley (specifically Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose).

That app, called Starbucks Mobile Card, allows a consumer to enter his/her Starbucks loyalty card number and to then see balances and related information. It also allows that consumer to enter a credit/debit card number and to use that payment card to add money to the Starbucks CRM card. A consumer walking into a Starbucks could then show the phone’s screen and allow it to be scanned as payment, in lieu of using the actual CRM card.

Starbucks Mobile Card is a limited trial, but the capability to access data about the card value is useful even though such data could just as easily be accessed from the chain’s Web site. There’s also a question of whether forcing a customer to take out their phone and have it scanned is really materially better than having them do the identical thing with a card. On the other hand, consumers can forget their loyalty cards, but it’s much less likely that they’ll forget their phones.

The real problem child is the nationally rolled out program called MyStarbucks. It’s also an iPhone app, and it offers a lot of Web repeat functions, such as a listing of all products and the associated calories and nutrients. Plus, MyStarbucks finds local Starbucks locations and provides basic information about each of the $2.4 billion chain’s 15,700 locations.

Here’s where things get frustrating. The app allows the customer to select and store a favorite location. It also allows that customer to create and save several favorite drinks, choosing from a laundry list of options. The problem is that there seems to be nothing digitally interesting that a consumer can do with that information, shy of posting it for groups of friends.

Why not take the next logical step and allow consumers to drag one of their favorite drinks to one of their favorite stores and have that data transmitted to that store, to save the time spent waiting in line to place the order and then waiting for that order to be made? The MyStarbucks app could even have been integrated into the Mobile Card trial, allowing for a complete buy-online-pick-up-in-store experience. There are quite a few reasons why it didn’t.


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