Is Starbucks moving toward a cashless future?

A customer pays for his purchase at a Starbucks store. Mobile payment firm Square will begin processing all credit and debit transactions at Starbucks. Could it signal the beginning of the end of cash?

Kai Ryssdal: All right, stop what you're doing for a second, close your eyes if it's safe -- and imagine this: You walk into a coffee shop. You've got your smartphone in your pocket. You order your tall drip or whatever it is that gets you through the day. And instead of asking you for two bucks, the cashier just asks your name and sends you on your way.

Cool, huh?

Starbucks is teaming up with the mobile payment company Square to make that scenario a reality. No credit card, no fumbling for change, and maybe eventually a cashless world?

Marketplace's Queena Kim takes a look.


Queena Kim: Starbucks is no stranger to mobile payments. About a year ago, it put out a mobile ap that lets you pay for your latte by swiping your phone in front of a scanner.

Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks.

Howard Schultz: When we introduced mobile commerce, I just don’t think we had any idea that we would see such a robust level of acceptance so quickly.

Today, customers make about one million of these mobile transactions a week. And Starbucks' success and its new partnership with Square has people crowing again that the cashless -- and credit cardless -- future is near. But is the Starbucks news really a game changer?

Wolman: I think in these early iterations of these products, it’s not life-changing or life-saving technology -- we’re seeing it’s added convenience.

David Wolman is the author of the “End of Money.” He says to imagine a cashless society look to Kenya, where people have little access to credit cards and banking. More and more, when you need to send money to the next village, you walk to the corner store, plunk down cash and the shopkeeper texts it to store in the next village.

Lee Rainie: It's just hard to do.

Lee Rainie is the director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet in American Life project.

Rainie: This is not a trivial problem, to get all these systems to talk to each other for different merchants who have different expectations.

And when it comes to making large purchases, consumers in the U.S. want to know there are laws that protect them from theft. And he says that future is a long way off.

I’m Queena Kim for Marketplace.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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