Coffee Currency? Unintended Starbucks Mobile Perk

Written by Evan Schuman
July 21st, 2011

We’ve written before that Starbucks is arguably the most effective mobile-payment app that really isn’t mobile payment at all. That’s because it simply mimics the barcode of the Starbucks stored-value card. But now that the app can have dollars added to the card online (and, of course, via mobile), an unexpected side benefit is that it can be used to transfer funds between consumers for free.

Tim Dickey, a retail specialist at POS vendor NCR, recently found himself being owed $100 by a friend who lived a long distance from him. (He had done some technology cleanup for her and had purchased a $100 application in the process.) The friend was going to use PayPal, but that would have incurred a charge, and they explored bank wires, which can also cost money through bank fees. Then Dickey, who is a frequent Starbucker, realized that she could simply populate his Starbucks card with $100. No charge, no delay, no risk. It was likely never considered a primary feature of the mobile program, but I doubt Starbucks would object if it became popular.


6 Comments | Read Coffee Currency? Unintended Starbucks Mobile Perk

  1. Fred Says:

    There is no charge for paypal between individuals unless the sender wants to fund with a credit card. If they fund with bank account or paypal balance it’s free to both parties.

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    In this instance, I believe the intent was indeed to use a credit card.

  3. Richard Nedwich Says:

    Why not send a check in the mail?

    That aside, was this a Starbucks eGift card, of did she actually login as Dickey and credit $100 to his account? Perhaps the only cost is privacy, rathen than bank fees?

    Still, this does seem a good alternative – similar to “Amazon” gift cards for birthday presents…

    Only catch, statistically, is the left over amounts unused on many gift cards.

  4. Bob LeMay Says:

    Another catch is that it only works if you ever enter Starbucks!

  5. A reader Says:

    Sounds like a great opportunity to do some money laundering or cross border wire transfers.

    “McGarrett, you check the airports, Western Union, and the banks. I’ll check Starbucks.”

  6. Tim Dickey Says:

    To answer Richard,

    A check in the mail? I never mail anything and I don’t have any checks. That would entail my friend writing a cheque, walking to the post office, getting a stamp and envelope and mailing the cheque. I would have to wait for it, and then when I get my mail, go the bank and deposit it. Ooooor, I tell her my gift card number over the phone, she enters it in the system and we’re done. Fair comment, but if you’re mailing checks, this idea is probably not for you.

    Any user can enter in any Starbucks card number and add funds to it. No login necessary as I recall. Potential privacy breach as my friend could theoretically take the card number and make her own card. Not particularly worth it, mind you.

    Fair enough on unused balances, but if you’ve met Starbucks devotees, using $100 at $4 per item doesn’t take long to disappear.

    The extra bonus is that I believe Starbucks has added the ability to top up other cards via their mobile app. Now we can effectively pass funds (from credit card) to another user via their Starbucks account on our mobile phones.


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