Mobile Payments: Starbucks App

June 20, 2011

In my attempt to gear up for the coming release of Google Wallet, I'm doing everything I can to get acquainted with paying for stuff with my phone. Toward that end, I've been using the Starbucks My Card app on my iPhone 4. Overall, the experience has been very good. Please read on for details.

How it works

In a nutshell, here's how it works: You get a Starbucks card at a retail location, register the card online, and install the Starbucks app on your phone (iOS or Android). You can now pay for stuff in a Starbucks retail location (including Target) by launching your Starbucks app, navigating to a screen that displays the barcode from your Starbucks card, and scanning your phone with the regular POS barcode scanner.

(NOTE: If you're at the drive through, this does mean that you have to hand your phone over to the barista at the window.)

Set up process

In order to start buying your sugar-free vanilla soy lattés with your iPhone or Android device, you have to do the following:

  1. Go to a Starbucks location
  2. Purchase a Starbucks card (it's basically a gift card)
  3. Navigate to on your computer
  4. Sign in (or create an account) on
  5. Click "add a card"
  6. Follow the instructions to register your Starbucks card online
  7. Link your Starbucks card to your credit card (or PayPal account)
  8. Install the Starbucks My Card app on your mobile phone
  9. Launch the Starbucks app on your mobile phone
  10. Sign into your account within the mobile app

As you can see, there are quite a few hoops to jump through here. In my case at least, it was too clunky to complete on my mobile phone, so I completed the online registration process on my laptop. Not a huge deal, but there's definitely room for UX improvement here.

How it feels

It feels great. My visits to Starbuck have more than doubled just because I know I don't have to mess around with my credit cards. Plus, it's actually kinda fun to see those rewards stars drop into my in-app coffee cup. In fact, Erica and I recently went in together, but paid separately because we were both greedily wanting to collect our own rewards. Sad but true.


The set-up process is cumbersome. Once you get yourself set up, paying at Starbucks with your iPhone or Android phone is easy and fun. It does feel weird to hand your phone over to a stranger at the drive-thru, but it's not that big deal and could be fixed by adding a scanner at the window.

Although this mobile app + gift card + online account arrangement is a bit convoluted, it's good enough to give me a good, positive feel for mobile payments.