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Use your iPhone to pay for your Starbucks in the UK

Screen Shot 2012 01 04 at 16 57 30

Thank you to reader Iain Mercer who emailed this morning about Starbucks. As a loyal fan of Starbucks filter coffee, Iain has using their reward card enthusiastically along with the hundreds of thousands of other caffeine addicted Brits.

For a while now Iain’s been using the Starbucks iOS app to easily locate his nearest shop during his regular travels across the UK.

Now, however, things are going to get even more exciting from a geeky mobile perspective: Starting tomorrow, the update to the Starbucks iOS card will enable customers to use their iPhone to pay directly for drinks at all Starbucks outlets.

The email update that Iain forwarded me over from Starbucks contains this revealing sentence:

The good news keeps coming. If you have an iPhone, be sure to download our new app tomorrow. You’ll be able to scan your iPhone to pay for your favourite drink.

We’ll need to wait until tomorrow to see how Starbucks have integrated payments into the app.

This is rather exciting. It’s a potential landmark moment, I think, provided they make it super-simple to use. I’m sure they will. It’s Starbucks, after all.

If you sit back and think about the millions of iPhone users in the great metropolitan cities of the UK, a large proportion of them will regularly visit Starbucks. I don’t think it will take long for even your normob iPhone users (“normal mobile users”) to catch on to the coolness and convenience of simply waving/scanning your iPhone to pay for your coffee.

If correctly implemented, I think this could be a runaway success.

Paying for coffee is a flipping arse. You have to CONTINUALLY make sure you’ve got some sort of shrapnel (“coins”) or paper money on your person at all times lest you miss out on a caffeine fix. Or, you have to walk to the sodding cash point. And even if that’s just 15 seconds away, that’s a big no-no for lots of people when they’re working.

I hope that the payment mechanism will enable you to swiftly pay — there could be substantial efficiencies in the Starbucks queues if all you need to do is a quick 1-second scan to pay. Both you and the coffee chappy won’t need to mess around counting coins.

Let’s wait and see what tomorrow brings.

And if you’re a big Starbucks fan, make sure you get hold of the app. I think it’ll be this one (iTunes link) that’s updated tomorrow morning.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

26 replies on “Use your iPhone to pay for your Starbucks in the UK”

Hi Ewan.

Whoo, fame at last! 😉

However, I think I could have been clearer in my email when mentioning their reward card, and how you pay with it currently. It’s a pre-pay / manual top up card, and the reward is you get either a discount from the filter coffee, or free shots of espresso or syrup. From reading their email, I would expect that the iOS app is a barcode linking to your account, and you still have to top up every so often. 


I do like my Starbucks card and this could be exciting.  You can top up online, though I would like an Oyster like auto-topup feature.

What on earth is wrong with paying on the old plastic? Chip and Pin can’t take that ling can it? Or is this a security thing? Are Starbucks routinely targeted by card skimmers who tamper with the chip and pin machines? Or is it just chip and pin that sucks?

Actually tend to throw only £30 on at the start of each week which always does me.  I have a psychological barrier to pre-paying more than a weeks worth on coffee (partially because I always tell myself I will cut down).

Ah good policy!

Could you see yourself sticking £100 on for the month if they gave you a discount (vs the 4 weeks x £30 spend = £120 total spend)

Yes, I could definitely see myself going for that.  I’m a sucker for a good offer :-0

Unlock iPhone, open app, wait for app, press button to pay, line up barcode, scan. Rescan if error. This form of mobile payment is just a digital barcode. It’s slow and not cutting edge. If anything it will slow down queues. Have you used the Subway app? Their scanners often fail to read and take numerous attempts to scan. If you a quick transaction, do like they do in the states, a swipe of your credit card, no sign, no pin. It takes seconds and your done.

Well, having updated I can say I’m very happy so far. Not because I’ve used it, but because it showed me a second card that I’d registered and forgotten about and it had money on it 😀

The problem with getting a coffee at Starbucks isn’t paying for it – it’s ordering the coffee and waiting for it. In New York Starbucks employ people to work the queue asking what you want and shouting the order to the barista. Of course it doesn’t quite work and it’s really annoying.
So why doesn’t mobile solve the real problem – recognize you’ve entered the store, asking whether you want your usual and transmitting that to the counter. Quick, efficient and pretty easy to do.
Solving the real problem creates the context for the mobile payment. And is much more likely to drive usage.

Feedback as requested!

The paying via mobile worked smoothly in that it was an immediate scan.

The bad news is they’ve changed the reward element of their scheme, and if like me you’re a filter coffee drinker, well, it’s rubbish! (The reward, not the filter coffee!)

Previously, using the Reward Card, I got 50p off a filter coffee or a free shot if I had an espresso based coffee. The new reward scheme now means I only get a free drink after using the card 15 times…

The subway implementation is an abomination.  The Starbucks solution seems to work just fine.  And it’s faster than their swipe card; quite significantly.

They now do have an auto-top up feature.  So the card is always in funds, and I don’t worry about them going bankrupt over night (irrational I know, but that’s me)

Hello! Do you know whether most UK Starbucks are WiFi hotspots? I’m an American visiting London for the first time next month (thrilling!), and I’m wondering if I can use my Starbucks iPhone app while there? My phone will be in Airplane mode while traveling, so I will be dependent upon hotspots. Thanks!

Samantha, yes you’ll always find a Wi-Fi hotspot in Starbucks… although I’m not sure if they’re free. McDonalds, on the other hand, offer free WiFi in every restaurant!

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