App Review: Starbucks

Starbucks2014AppThough it comes at a premium price, and there are aspects of doing business I don’t like, I choose Starbucks for a conveniently mobile cup of coffee, snack and place to meet and work. The coffee is dark, strong and brewed fresh and there are many choices of beverages. Food is convenient. Cafes are generally clean, well-kept and conducive to writing or story conferences, which makes Starbucks an attractive option. I patronize Starbucks often enough to use the mobile app for payment.

I use both Starbucks’ app on my iPhone and as part of Apple’s Passbook. After loading a dollar amount onto my Starbucks account, I walk up to the cashier, activate my app, place my order and put the device in front of a scanner and that’s it; the transaction is complete and my order has been received and paid for. I get my order after it’s made and, as they say, I’m good to go (or stay). The app calculates how much is left on my account or “card”. When I get enough gold stars for a free salad or coffee, I just inform the cashier and swipe the iPhone app. With my gold card app status, coffee refills are free and I use the app for that, too. The app, which also allows free downloads of games and songs, kept track of my favorite stores and order combinations, items and drinks.

In recent days, Starbucks upgraded the app. The interface is streamlined, though Starbucks has eliminated the personal preferences option, and a tip option is available for the first time for those customers who choose to add a tip to their Starbucks transaction.

Herein lies the app’s problem. The tip amount is pre-designated by Starbucks. There is no free choice; Starbucks provides a few amounts as tip options, starting at 50 cents, and leaves the customer no choice to decide for himself exactly what amount to tip. The lack of control gets worse. In addition to losing the ability to choose, Starbucks has applied the same presumptuous principle to its reloading feature. When the customer goes to reload a dollar amount on the app, such as $25 (the minimum amount is $10), Starbucks smuggles in an auto-reload function that presumes the user wishes to designate that amount for an automatic reload that will automatically charge to one’s credit card every so often. This sneaky feature, which is deceptive at best, is not clearly communicated or disclosed. So when one goes to add the new amount, it’s easy to mistake the auto-reload for a regular reload. One must select ‘Never’ which is not readily apparent as an option.

This is a systemic problem with today’s technology. The default technological position, such as accessing a live operator, is too often designed or intended to discourage or deprive the user free choice and control – look at Facebook – in the name of convenience or automation. As a business model, this makes no sense. Such an approach presumes the customer deficient without evidence, never a good idea unless producing an inherently deficient product, and by diminishing free choice, ultimately chases the loyal customer away. In my case, I attempted to manage the account online without success – discovering another Starbucks flaw on its Web site; the inability to deactivate auto-reload – and had to call customer service to correct the error. Starbucks did ultimately resolve the dispute. The upshot: a loyal customer was given reason to doubt and distrust trading with Starbucks. The app upgrade with the dubious feature backfired, at least as far as I’m concerned. Starbucks app users are hereby forewarned about inadvertently activating automatic reloading. As always in any trade, and especially in an increasingly anti-capitalist society, which discourages good business practices, buyer beware.