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Starbucks mobile: Toward a money-free world

The coffee giant is finally launching mobile phone payments in Canada. The currency-less world, evidently, is beginning at Starbucks.


Photo: Elvert Barnes/Wikimedia

Coffee lovers rejoice: Starbucks is finally launching mobile phone payments in Canada. Starting yesterday, the chain is updating its iPhone app so that customers can pay for their super-tall-mega-grande-low-fat-soy-mocha-frappucinos with their devices instead of with cash or plastic.

I got a run-through of the feature last week and it’s pretty neat. You load up your account with credit, which can be done on the phone itself, then call up its bar code through the app, which the counter clerk scans. The amount of the order is then deducted from your balance. Simple. The app also ties in to Starbucks’s loyalty program, so you can earn free drinks the more you frequent the place.

The mobile payment feature was introduced in the United States earlier this year and Canada is the first international expansion. While it’s available across iPhone, Android and BlackBerry down south, at launch it’s iPhone-only in Canada. The folks at Starbucks tell me the other two platforms should be added early next year.

One thing I was hoping for that Starbucks has yet to introduce is some sort of advance ordering option. Several food companies, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, have such a thing—it lets customers place an order on their phone, then show up to pick it up. With its often huge lineups, it’s a feature Starbucks and its customers could surely benefit from. Alas, no luck so far, representatives say.

Perhaps the niftiest part of the mobile payments option is that it works cross-border, so Canadians can also pay for their coffees at a U.S. Starbucks with their phones and vice versa. The exchange rate is apparently kept up to date and calculated at the point of purchase, so no banks are involved.

I asked the obvious question, of whether this feature will be rolled out to other countries, and while I didn’t get a reply in the affirmative, that certainly would be the plan.

If so, it may not be too long before you’ll be able to walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the world and order a coffee with your smartphone. No paper, coins or plastic necessary. The currency-less world, evidently, is beginning at Starbucks.