Blog: Grande 140-Character Payments
#firstworldproblems is a frequently used Twitter hashtag for complaining about things that many people in the world would gladly endure, like not being able to text while your manicure dries.
I can’t be certain that this list of banal, often whiny, but occasionally funny tweets is where Starbucks newest innovation in the payment space came from, but it would appear so.
If ever there was a prize for solving a first world problem, creating the ability to buy a coffee for a friend or acquaintance by sending a tweet would be Nobel-worthy. In a world of many ways to send money digitally, mobile apps with the ability to create and send e-gift cards, and plastic gift cards at seemingly every cash register, tweeting a coffee is a new twist.
I discovered this innovation—this is innovation, right?—not by a news release or even a visit to Starbucks, but it actually appeared in my Twitter feed. Admittedly, being in technology for 20-odd years means my Twitter feed is full of world-class nerds doing things like comparing Tesla models and arguing about Android phones, but this stood out. Better still, this transaction via Twitter was between two software developers who sit five feet from each other for more than 40 hours per week. Starbucks has clearly cornered the anti-social, screen-addicted market, but will this innovation cross over to the mainstream?
|If ever there was a prize for solving a first world problem, creating the ability to buy a coffee for a friend or acquaintance by sending a tweet would be Nobel-worthy.|
The basic idea of Tweet-a-Coffee is fairly simple. You connect your Twitter account to your Starbucks account by a simple login. The reason the system works is because Starbucks, because of the success of its mobile app and Starbucks Rewards cards, has credit cards on file for many of its customers. The Twitter account of these same customers has no credit card information and no personal information, aside from a name and email. There is no hurdle of trust and typing for users—they already have credit card-enabled Starbucks accounts, and they already use Twitter to send and receive tweets (or twitters, if you’re an elderly politician or wish to sound like one) and no significant personal information must be shared for this to work.
Once the two accounts are connected, you can send a $5 e-gift to anyone on Twitter with a simple format of “@tweetacoffee” then “to” and the recipient’s username. Go ahead and try it by connecting your account and then sending:
@tweetacoffee to @desetto #paybefore
Shameless plug for coffee donations aside, the system is really that simple. The recipient is sent a link by Starbucks to authenticate his account, and the $5 is added to the Starbucks account balance. Interestingly, this program was released with no way to customize the amount—$5 is the only available denomination.
So what is the point of this innovation that doesn’t meet the criteria of being faster or easier than many of the other coffee-buying options with which readers are familiar?
First, it’s a brilliant stroke of Internet marketing. Whether you find it silly or you find it an interesting new direction in commerce, it’s hard to not talk about something called tweet-a-coffee from a major retailer. If the goal is to keep Starbucks in the conversation around the office, this should work.
Secondly, I think the $5 mark may be deliberately designed to create new Starbucks accounts. $5 is too much money to just discard, but few drinks at Starbucks actually cost $5. If you really buy a coffee—I know, who buys an actual coffee at Starbucks?—you will probably have two or three dollars left. Even a grande latte should fall under $5. So, that leaves new users who receive these tweets with a new account with money left on it—and therefore temptation to add their own funds. As a channel to Starbucks account creation, this should work.
Lastly, tweet-a-coffee may just be an experiment. Twitter is growing fast, is now publicly traded and is here to stay. It’s reasonable for major companies to begin to solve how to conduct commerce over this network. Sending an officemate a coffee is a reasonable first step in this direction.
Joseph DeSetto is Paybefore’s emerging payments blogger and program director of the Mobile Development Bachelor of Science degree at Full Sail University. He is the author of The Business of Design and previously served as chief technology officer for two mobile startups.
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