Big news this week as Starbucks coffee drinkers can now use their smartphones as a payment method at nearly 6,800 of the Seattle-based coffee shops nationwide. The app allows users to attach Starbucks giftcards to a user’s Blackberry or iPhone and then scan a barcode on their phone at the point of sale, and can also be charged with value via PayPal or any major credit cards. The message coming out of Starbucks HQ seems to be that they’ve opted for a barcode-based payment system today, but are planning to take this technology in some pretty interesting directions, such as Near Field Communication (NFC) in the future. Starbucks also has the ability to add value to its customers reward cards for taking surveys, and will now presumably be able to complete this entire process of presenting a survey offer, accepting customer responses, adding value to the customer loyalty app and accepting payment all on a single smartphone. The functionality being utilized for this rewards app is very similar to the Digital Wallet software available from companies like Google and Accelitec, and the fact that Starbucks has now taken the lead should serve as sign to other brands and retailers that now is the ideal time to be targeting customer loyalty by creating and launching rewards applications for smartphones.
This weeks sign of the times has to be the news that eBay saw their sales via mobile devices rise from $600mm to over $2b in 2010. The apps, which are available for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7 operating systems, have been downloaded by over 30 million people in more than 190 countries. Interestingly, the UK has been the fastest Eurpoean adopter of eBay’s mobile app, and combined with Germany they “generated nearly one third of all eBay’s mobile sales in 2010“. According to eBay, every minute there are 94 bids made for various products and 13 items of clothing/shoes/accessories are purchased. This really highlights the growing trend for consumers to do their shopping online and should resonate loud and clear with traditional, brick and mortar retailers.
The message being sent by the market is very clear – develop an online/mobile presence so that our shopping experiences are as fast and painless as possible, or we’ll buy from someone else who can. We’re already seeing the response to this trend from macro retailers like Target, Safeway and BestBuy with their expanding presences on Facebook, mobile applications, and location based services like Shopkick and Foursquare. For the mid-size and smaller retailers who are losing the tech-race, the time is now to start implementing solutions like the Accelitec software suite if they hope to close this growing gap and ultimately start winning back a percentage of these sales lost to online retailers.
It was announced this week that Google acquired Zetawire, a Toronto-based mobile payments-focused startup, in August. This is important and revealing news for anyone trying to understand the long-term mobile strategy for the Silicon Valley search engine behemoth. It’s widely known that the latest version of the Google Android mobile OS, known as 2.3 or “Gingerbread”, has been designed to include the functionality of a digital wallet for users to store value; Zetawire is a natural augmentation to the digital wallet because they bring vital pieces like NFC (Near Field Communication) and payments transactions into the fold. There isn’t a great deal of information available on the startup in question, but we do know that they had several very important patents around mobile banking, identity management and credit card/mobile coupon transaction processing – all of which points directly to the idea that Google is attempting to turn smartphones running on their OS into virtual, digital wallets. With Google now officially stepping into the mobile payments and LBS space, retailers need to keep an eye on ways to enhance their business by incentivizing and engaging customers in/around their stores via Android smartphones.