Starbucks, The iPhone and Cyclist Salvation

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by David Schloss on May 10, 2011 at 6:58 PM

Starbucks Mobile Card

Ever since my first trip to Stumptown coffee in Portland I’ve been a bit of a coffee snob and as such I’m not usually one to wax all gushy about Starbucks any more than as a foodie I’d go all weak at the knees for the golden arches. But as a cyclist and as a tech lover, I’ve recently gotten a bit of Starbucks fever thanks to their Starbucks Card Mobile app.

The retail stored-value card has been a boon to retailers—by giving consumers a card that’s both a loyalty card and a gift card combined in one wallet-friendly package stores can get shoppers back in more often because they love, love points. However, when I’m out for a ride I’m packing as light as possible, so bringing yet another piece of plastic to lose just seems like a bad idea. Usually I’ll bring a wad of singles and stop along the way at some mini-mart to fuel up rather than bring a likely-to-be-lost card.

But Starbucks, which has always embraced the iPhone has an app that keeps a Starbucks Card value and points level handy at the click of a button. Since there are so many locations it’s a good bet that one of my routes will pass one. Stepping up to the counter I simply bring up the app, click “Pay Now” and show them my barcode. Beep, boop, bing and I’ve paid for my drink. (Iced Green Tea—one pump sweet.)

But that’s not the brilliant part. The rewards program at the company provides for free iced tea and iced coffee refills during the same visit once you have five points (five purchases, essentially). Hot tea and coffee are subject to free refills too, but I rarely need to refill with a hot tea.)

Hear that oh Pantheon of parched cyclists? Present your app to get a Venti Iced Green Tea. Drink it. Get another. Drink it. Get another. Yeah, the Starbucks FAQ specifically says “refills.” Combine that with the cyclist-friendly staff at most places (they often fill all of our water bottles even when busy at our local store) and clean bathrooms and you’ve got a great cycling pitstop.

Now, for the record, I stop at local coffee shops where they exist, and at bagel stores as well, since they’re both owned by local merchants. Ride starts and ends are usually at the local joints. But I’m very often on the road with nothing but strip-malls of chain stores to chose from. (One of the closer locations is in the same strip as a Panera and an Applebees.) And now I can do it with many free iced teas.

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