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September 4, 2012 | Mac Bartine

Mobile Payment Apps: Not As Simple As They Seem

Having Trouble with Mobile Payments

There’s plenty of buzz about mobile payments and how they’re going to revolutionize commerce. But there’s still a long way to go until that actually happens.

Case in point: CNet referenced the Starbucks App as one of the most successful example of mobile payments to date, and I was pretty excited about that, because I love coffee, and hadn’t tried the app yet. But a quick review of the reviews for the iPhone app revealed that it’s got some serious issues.

Here are the comments/reviews in the order I read them.

  • 1 Star - “Need a coffee? Too bad! For weeks I have been having issues reloading my account or refreshing my balance…”
  • 1 Star - “This app won’t let me login. It says it doesn’t recognize my login/password…”
  • 1 Star - “Bloated with advertising – packed full of so much advertising for Starbucks that it’s slow and hogs memory…”
  • 1 Star - “I have been having problems with this app not showing my balance for months…”
  • 1 Star - “Useless - I have not been able to use this app for over a month…”
  • 2 Stars - “I’m a barista at SB and hate having to apologize for the crashes and poor app quality…”
  • 5 Stars - “Mocha fun – This is an easy app. Had it for a while now and so much easier than using an actual GC…”

In case you weren’t counting, that’s 6 negative reviews before the first positive one. Going further through the reviews revealed a little better mix of good and bad, but the overall review is 2 ½ Stars – not what you’d expect from a market leader. Needless to say, I won’t bother downloading the SB app right now.

Here’s more evidence that things aren’t quite right yet: in the article referenced above, CNet mentions that one of the things that mobile payments will focus on is tying customer rewards and coupons to use of corporate mobile payment accounts, and that that’s one of the things that SB does well.

I hate to rail against Starbucks, because I really love their coffee and much about how the company does business, but once again, they’re failing in their role as the most successful business using mobile payments. How so? They mail their app users coupons via snail mail instead of just adding it to their mobile payments account – the obvious, easiest solution for their customers.

It may not be “the easiest thing ever” for Starbucks to tie the coupons to your app account, but it certainly would make sense, and is very doable. Case in point - even though I don’t think Groupon is a great business, they’ve certainly made it easy to tie buying activities to scanable coupons on the mobile app.

So why isn’t the reigning king of mobile payments doing it better, and what does it say about mobile payments being the burgeoning juggernaut of future commerce that the supposed king of the day has a lousy app? In short, business is still figuring this out, and they obviously don’t see enough benefit to invest in solid solutions at present.

After all, Starbucks has plenty of cash to create a great app – right? It’s beyond us to figure out why SB is or isn’t putting enough capital into their app to make it great. That’s their thing. But even though mobile commerce is imperfect and spotty at present, we as consumers and business owners do need to think about and be prepared for things moving in that direction.

Here are my closing thoughts on the subject.

  1. There will be great opportunities for consumers to lighten their wallets (less paper and less cards) as mobile payment apps become better, and it’ll be easier to save money using apps as corporations get smarter about tying together all the pieces.
  2. There will be tremendous opportunities for tech startups and existing tech businesses to build apps and services to help facilitate the move to mobile commerce.
  3. It’s going to sneak up on us. Implementations will continue to be spotty and infrequently used for a while, then one day we’ll look around and mobile payment usage will be everywhere.
  4. If you own a business and you aren’t planning for m commerce now, you’ll be playing catch up later.
  5. Mobile security is going to be HUGE. Cyber crime will be growing in that direction as legitimate business does the same. So whoever comes up with the easiest, most secure methods for keeping the bad guys from being able to access your money through your phone will and should make a killing.

Have you used mobile for making payments? How, and what do you think about the opportunities that come with the changes?

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Mac Bartine

Mac Bartine

As one of VIEO Design’s four owners, Mac Bartine served as our COO and web strategist until July 2014. Today, he advises VIEO as a partner and uses his considerable skill as a digital strategist in his positions as CEO of several startups.

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