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Starbucks introduces pay-by-phone

Starbucks this week launched a downloadable app that can turn your iPhone or BlackBerry into a mobile Starbucks Card. Instead of carrying the card around and always wondering what balance you have left, you just tap on the app and all the information is right there on your phone.

Best of all, you can even use the app to pay for your drink. That’s right – your iPhone or BlackBerry effectively becomes a debit card. While this app is strictly limited to Starbucks, it gives us a vision of what the future of retail may look like. Instead of carrying around a wallet or purse full of credit cards, we can just flash our smartphones and the store and processing banks will take care of everything else.

Here’s how the app – called Starbucks Card Mobile – works. First you download the app. Next, you link the app to a Starbuck’s Card by entering the card number. The app will immediately display your balance and even track the Stars you earn towards free beverages.

If you want to pay for a drink or snack, you go to the Payments tab, click Try It, and turn on the enable payments setting. Then when you are at the checkout, you tap Touch to Pay. The app will display a barcode, which gets scanned by the cashier in the regular way. And that’s it, your transaction is complete! You can even link the app to a credit card, so your mobile card is replenished when it runs low.

Now, there are obvious security concerns in turning your smartphone into a payment device. Do you really want yet another retailer to have access to your credit card information? And what happens if you lose your smartphone? Could someone potentially bankrupt you in an orgy of lattes and mocha frappuccinos?

Well, Starbucks appears to have thought of most of those issues, adding extra layers of security like being asked to enter your name and password every time you want to authorize a reload. They will also treat a lost phone like a lost Starbuck’s Card, offering full balance protection when the loss is reported.

Mobile payment apps may not be for everyone, and there are sure to be some kinks that will need working out, but the idea of throwing away all those credit cards and just flashing your phone to make a payment has enormous potential – on both sides of the cash register.

Would you feel comfortable using your phone to make a payment? Is the way of the future for retail? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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