Mobile Commerce and Convenience: This app needs a caffeine fix

A few weeks ago I wrote about consumers’ increasing use of smartphones and the massive opportunities awaiting companies that leverage mobile commerce.

I was beyond giddy when I heard that a particular “caffeine fix” company was going to let me try my hand at using my phone as a form of payment. After downloading the mobile app on my iPhone, I decided to try it out.

Trip #1: I reached the counter and held out my phone. “I’d like to use the mobile app to pay. How do I do that?” Blank stare (I felt a little guilty at this point, carrying out my own market research). After asking several other employees, he said I’d need to buy a gift card in order to use my phone to make the purchase. Hmmm … doesn’t that kind of defeat the convenience of using my phone to pay? The glares from the caffeine-less line behind me told me this was not the best time of day to be quizzing employees on new technology, so I loaded a gift card, along with my “caffeine fix,” figuring I’d try out the mobile app another day.

Trip #2: With registered, loaded gift card in hand and phone in the other, I was ready to go this time. An improved employee response, “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” But still, the employee didn’t know how to use it. A bit of fumbling with the register – no luck; the scanner didn’t like my phone very much. With no other workaround, both the employee and I grew impatient.  So … with my gift card in my left hand and my iPhone in my right, I finally decided to end the painful transaction and hand over the card.

These two transactions spoke volumes about what it takes to successfully introduce mobile apps in the marketplace:

Customer convenience: Mobile apps should be a more convenient means of payment for customers, but my experience showed that this isn’t always the case. Having to purchase a gift card (instead of automatically debit from a personal account) complicated the process. Who wants to add another “balance” to their life to keep track of? To top it off, if I’m looking ahead to the next month, my pragmatic self probably estimates one caffeine fix a week. If looking back on last month, I’ve probably indulged, more accurately, 2 times a week. Having my caffeine fix debit from an account versus a gift card balance is a much more convenient way for customers to pay through mobile – and would probably mean more business for the vendor.

Employee education and training: When introducing a new form of “convenient” technology, it is critical that employees know all about it. Leading the pack doesn’t mean just building the technology – it also means ensuring that your employees and customers know how to use it.

Often times, this starts with understanding your customers’ drives, desires and how they live their lives – and how your company can deliver in response to it all.

What about you? Have you used any mobile technologies recently that proved to be more complicated than convenient? If so, what would you tell the companies that made them?

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2 thoughts on “Mobile Commerce and Convenience: This app needs a caffeine fix

  1. Sadly, I am not surprised by this. I’ve had a similar although better experience with the airlines and the electronic boarding passes. Early on, I got to the airport and found the scanners to have dead batteries or to not be readily available and TSA agents not really willing to make the effort to make the system work. Each experience seemed to get better so I never did say anything.

    It’s almost as though the earliest adopters get punished.
    Why I don’t understand is how a company like Starbucks can not have thought through the entire customers experience and what a roll out like this would have involved prior to launch.
    When there is a new product launch, many companies rush to get the product on the market because it’s an important revenue stream. Many consumers expect first generation products to be buggy.
    What doesn’t make sense is why a company wouldn’t thoroughly test and train its folks on a product that is just adding value. It may add revenue by cutting down on credit card fees but I’m guessing that wasn’t the motivation behind doing it.
    If you are going to launch something it should work and your people should know how to use it. Bottom line.

    As I think about whether I would give feedback or not, I have to say it depends. If it’s a brand I feel strongly about, then I would absolutely be part of the conversation. I travel for business and am devoted to Starwood and Delta. I try to recognize people doing a good job and if things go wrong but get fixed, I recognize those as well. I haven’t found either of their apps to be fantastic but they are functional–so I haven’t made any suggestions.
    I have a love hate relationship with Starbucks, so I find that I don’t want to engage, I just want to get in and get out caffeinated.

  2. I’ve used the starbucks mobile app without any trouble.

    The app for paying is the app for checking your gift card balance. I’ve had a gift card set up with starbucks for quite a while for their rewards program, and the app ties into that. I guess, having used the app for a long time prior to them accepting payments via the app, and having already had it tied to a gift card account, it made perfect sense to me.

    That being said, I’m not really sure why they have 2 separate apps in the app store instead of just one well laid out one.

    At this stage, and level of complexity, I think the Starbucks app is geared more towards those who already know how to use it, or can quickly figure it out on their own. It isn’t a particular matter of utility, but more of a cool thing that enthusiasts can do with their iPhone that connects them a bit more to the starbucks brand.

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