Starbucks Chief Believes in Blockchain But Not Bitcoin

Given the enthusiastic response that other established brands have received merely by uttering the words “blockchain” or “Bitcoin,” it seems it was Howard Schultz’s turn to take a swing at it. However the Starbucks CEO wasn’t so bullish on the leading cryptocurrency saying, “I don’t believe that Bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future.” On the other hand, Schultz seemingly opened the door to his company integrating blockchain technology into their operations down the line.

Before we get into parsing Schultz’s blockchain tease, it’s worth noting that Starbucks has a history of bringing FinTech ideas to the mainstream. For example the coffee chain was an early adopter of both mobile payments and mobile ordering. In fact they recently announced that mobile orders now account for 11% of their sales while mobile payments (which includes mobile orders) make up 30% of sales. Driving this usage is the company’s loyalty program, which rewards frequent visitors with free items using points tracked via their mobile app.

Given the popularity of Starbucks’ rewards program, The Drum speculates that it could play a role in a blockchain-backed offering as well. Adding fuel to that theory, Schultz had this to say during a recent earnings call: “As we think about the future of our company and the future of consumer behavior, I personally believe that there is going to be a one or a few legitimate trusted digital currencies off of the blockchain technology. And that legitimacy and trust in terms of its consumer application will have to be legitimatized by a brand and a brick and mortar environment, where the consumer has trust and confidence in the company that is providing the transaction.” While that sounds exciting, Schultz was quick to clarify that nothing was currently close to rolling out, saying, “Now, I don’t want anyone to hang up on this call and assume that we have this all figured out, because we don’t. Or that we’re making a significant investment in this, because we’re not.”

Given that latter quote, it’s possible that Schultz is really just spitballing at this point and may be waiting to see how other efforts turn out. Still given Starbucks’ success with digital payments and loyalty, the applications Schultz describes really do sound like logical extensions of what the company is already doing (and doing well). But, among this ambiguity, there’s one thing we can say with some confidence: don’t expect to Starbucks to be accepting Bitcoin any time soon.

Also published on Medium.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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