Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Computers as Currency?

Computers have changed our lives in countless different ways, big and small, in a relatively short time period. One area where they have made a particularly big impact has been the retail sphere.

Computers have utterly reshaped the global retail landscape in the last decade. Borders Books, the ever-expanding retail behemoth of the '90s has been hobbled in recent years, closing as many as 200 stores. Sure part of it is the economy but mainly it's due to the fact that people don't buy books anymore and when they do they buy them online at Amazon. But mostly they just download them to their Kindle or iPad and read them virtually.

Record stores have already largely gone by the wayside, a victim of online downloads, both legal and illegal. Video stores are closing their doors mainly due to NetFlix but partially because of consumers' ability to stream the movies and shows they want to watch online.

In the midst of a retail landscape that is collapsing like CGI buildings in the John Cusack disaster film 2012 Starbucks have introduced another digital innovation that could change the retail landscape yet again.

The coffee shop chain have introduced an app that will allow consumers to use their iPhone, iPod Touch or Blackberry as legal tender for making purchases. The Starbucks Card Mobile app will enable users to carry a virtual Starbucks Card on their mobile device that can be reloaded via PayPal. The app will also automatically track rewards on accumulated purchases made.

Using your phone to buy coffee is as simple as selecting the "touch to pay" option and holding the barcode on your device's screen up to the 2D scanner at the register.

As to whether the app will catch on let alone lead to more retail outlets sponsoring such apps, only time will tell. But given recent history and the fact that people are willing to let once cherished media like books, records, CDs and DVDs go in favor of digital media, there is little reason to doubt that consumers might be willing to cut the cash out of the equation in favor of the tidier process of making in-store purchases digitally.

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