Why Square and Starbucks might have a long road ahead

I have now tried three times to use my Square account to pay at my local Starbucks. And each time it hasn’t worked.

Now, this is one person, at one Starbucks. So, I won’t make any global claims as to the overall state of the new partnership between Square and Starbucks. But still, the problem has given me a glimpse into the challenges Square faces in rolling out its payment service across Starbucks’ franchises.

I first tried using it the day it went live last week. I already had the Square app on my phone. I launched it, held it up to the scanner. And then…nothing. I wiggled the phone around for a bit, and then finally pulled out my credit card and just paid. Oh, well. First day glitches.

I went back a couple of days later, and had the same issue. Since no one was waiting, and since I was curious, I hung around a few minutes as the barista tried to get it work. He asked a few co-workers, and they were all baffled. Finally, the manager came out and looked at it.

Then, a light bulb seemed to go on. You know, she said, I think the company sent me something that I have to place in front of the scanners to get them to read this thing. The scanners are set up to read the UPC codes on Starbucks cards and its app:

Starbucks cards use UPC codes.

But the manager realized she still needed to flash something in front of the scanners to allow them to read the QR codes that Square uses:

Square’s wallet app uses QR codes.

Ah, well, there you go. Problem solved.

Except I went back today, and the scanners still weren’t reading the Square app.

Now, none of this is fatal, of course. But as simple as we often think these things are to use and to implement, it would seem the success of the Square-Starbucks partnership comes down to thousands of Starbucks managers getting around to resetting their scanners to enable them to read Square’s app. Turning this on is not a simple matter of pressing a button.

In my week or so of trying, most of the folks at the Starbucks hadn’t seemed to have heard of Square.   So it doesn’t appear to be the biggest of priorities.

Again, this is one person, at one Starbucks. Maybe the other 99.999 percent of Starbucks had their scanners re-set on day one. But if not, Square may have a lot of follow-up work to do to nudge all these franchises to get on board.


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  • Travis

    I had my scanners reprogrammed on day one. This was a weekly action item that should’ve been completed like two weeks ago. Sounds to me like some people were just slacking. Then again maybe it has something to do with working in the Seattle area… ? Fun fact: drive thru scanners don’t have to be reprogrammed to accept Square payments, they come good to go out of the box!

    • Jim

      Your comment of working in the Seattle area sums up most of the Starbucks that I seem to visit. Something is going on with that company and the fact that the square app was not working and the scanners were not reprogrammed is just one aspect of what could be a global problem if higher ups really want to look into it. Lately i only visit a Starbucks if I know someone working there. It just seems that workers are generally un-happy and just don’t really give a s### about the consumer. Pretty expensive coffee to have an attitude! Maybe this is just my observation, I really do not think so. I think people have just gotten use to paying out money and not paying attention to service. Watch out because that is changing. Next time you go to the grocery store just look at the number of people walking through the aisle using coupons, People are going to start demanding that the service match the product price. So slacking managers is just the start to poor overall service, and as long as we will pay for it then that is what we will get!

  • Steve Fawthrop

    Twice you refer to Starbucks franchises. They do not have franchises in the traditional sense of the word. You should reall say locations since the vast majority of locations are corporately managed. Thus, management of the Square program will be corporately mandated and managed.

    They had some controversy earlier when they first went into grocery stores and there was debate if employees should be Starbucks employees or employees of the site managers. Where you have locations where there are not tips that is usually an indication of being managed by someone else, like at an airport location.

  • Jo

    Until Starbucks pays its taxes in the UK, I won’t shop there.

  • Darren

    I hope the Starbucks card pictured here is not real, otherwise someone could use the bar code against you. Free drinks,anyone?