Starbucks is experimenting with ‘scanless checkout’ for drive-through users
Starbucks is testing a new way for customers to pay for their favorite beverages — without even having to pull out their phone. The company confirmed an internal test of “scanless pay,” a new contactless checkout method that would leverage a Starbucks app’s user’s current geolocation to identify them in the drive-through lane so they wouldn’t have to pull out their phone to pay.
The experience is currently only being tested as a proof-of-concept with Starbucks employees, the company told TechCrunch. It doesn’t have a set date as to when such a feature would launch to consumers, or even if it will.
If it did, however, such an innovation would likely speed up drive-through times, as customers wouldn’t have to launch the Starbucks app, display their barcode, then wait for the employee to scan their screen — something that can often be tricky in bright sunlight or when the customer isn’t well-positioned at the drive-through window. Instead, a scanless checkout system would allow the employee to simply hand over the customer’s order and have them then be on their way.
This could also potentially impact the company’s bottom line as the drive-through could serve more customers in a shorter amount of time.
The new technology was discovered by developer and researcher Steve Moser, who found references to scanless pay in the current version of the Starbucks mobile app. Additional text in the app explained “Scanless pay in the drive-through helps you get your order fast. We use your device’s location services to identify you when you arrive so you don’t have to pull out your wallet or device when paying at the drive-through.”
The app indicated the feature was available in select locations, but the company told us it’s not open to consumers at this time.
Currently, the system works by asking the user to opt into the feature. Once enabled, customers would check in on the mobile app when they arrive at a participating drive-through store, then tell the barista their name and that they’ve checked in, after placing their order. While this system doesn’t mean you can leave your phone at home, customers likely have enough time to fiddle with this extra step while waiting in the drive-through line. Then, when they approach the window, there isn’t anything else to do but accept your order and move on.
The development is interesting to note because of Starbucks’ leadership in novel payment solutions. Well before Apple Pay became as ubiquitous as it is today, Starbucks was pioneering the concept of the digital wallet at checkout. Today, its Mobile Order & Pay system for ordering ahead plays a significant role in generating company revenue. In Q2 2023, for example, the company noted that combined with drive-through and delivery, Mobile Order & Pay accounted for 74% of U.S. company-owned revenue, in fact.
“As we continue to innovate and invest in the Starbucks Experience for our partners (employees) and customers, we are always testing and exploring new features to ensure an effortless, delightful, and personalized experience for our customers and partners,” a Starbucks spokesperson said, confirming the test to TechCrunch.
Starbucks isn’t the only retailer to test out scanless payment tech, of course. Amazon has been developing its own Just Walk Out technology that uses camera systems, an app and machine learning tech to determine what a customer bought at a store so they could just leave when shopping is complete. The retailer has also been developing a palm-scanning system, Amazon One, used by various venues and retailers, including Panera Bread. The downside of Amazon’s systems is that customers aren’t comfortable with the biometrics involved — having their palm scanned to track them, that is. Starbucks’ scanless system, on the other hand, wouldn’t be much different from grocery pickup apps like Instacart or even Starbucks mobile ordering, where you temporarily provide location access so the store knows you’re on your way.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.