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.