It beat out Google and Apple pay

By Tim Nelson
Updated May 22, 2018
Credit: ivotheeditors/Getty Images

Everywhere you go, there are more and more signs suggesting that we’re on our way to living in a cashless society. In fact, it’s not all that unheard of these days to visit a coffee shop or food truck that flat-out refuses to accept your filthy paper currency. But believe it or not, the app tied to the world’s largest coffee chain is leading the mobile payment charge, beating out some major tech companies in the process.

According to research provided to news outlets by digital marketing firm eMarketer, the Starbucks app is the most widely-used mobile payment system, with a projected 23.4 million smartphone users over the age of 14 set to buy cold brews, frappuccinos and the like by scanning a code on their smartphone at a Starbucks register this year. That puts the Starbucks app ahead of the mobile payment systems introduced by Apple (22 million users), Google (11.1 million users) and Samsung (9.9 million users) in terms of users. According to Starbucks, these sorts of mobile transactions represented 12 percent of total sales in the first quarter of 2018.

There are a few likely reasons for Starbucks’ first place status. Unlike other payment offerings that are tied to a specific suite of smartphones (iPhones vs Google’s Pixels, for example), Starbucks’ payment app cuts across the iOS/Android divide. It’s also predictable: you know precisely where and how you can pay with the Starbucks app, no matter which one of the thousands of locations you’re at. And the fact that mobile payments are the crux of how frequent Starbucks visitors earn and use their loyalty rewards certainly drives use.

The analysts at eMarketer predict that the number of all people using their smartphones to make payments will continue to rise in the years ahead, but that Starbucks will continue to maintain its edge despite a predicted increase in competition from upstart payment methods. By 2022, an estimated 29.8 million coffee drinkers will pay with their smartphones.

With Starbucks set to introduce its own rewards credit card that can be loaded into the app, adoption could increase even further over time. Unless everyone takes advantage of their new company policy and just sits around all day without buying anything, that is.