Starbucks’ Crypto Partnership Causes Confusion
Years after they first took a shine to the concept of mobile payments on their way to leading the space, Starbucks has announced that it is turning its attention to cryptocurrencies next. Last week the ubiquitous coffee chain announced that it — along with BCG, Microsoft, and others — would be working with a new company called Bakkt to “create an integrated platform that enables consumers and institutions to buy, sell, store and spend digital assets on a seamless global network.” This reveal set off a frenzy of headlines declaring that Starbucks would soon be accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment. However the company was quick to refute these assertations.
As Vice’s Motherboard reports, a Starbucks spokesperson later said of the partnership, “It is important to clarify that we are not accepting digital assets at Starbucks. Rather the exchange will convert digital assets like Bitcoin into US dollars, which can be used at Starbucks.” Taking aim at some headline that suggested cryptocurrencies could be used to purchases lattes and other treats, the spokesperson continued to bluntly state, “Customers will not be able to pay for Frappuccinos with Bitcoin.” Despite that, the company did seemingly leave the door open to directly accepting Bitcoin in the future, saying “We will continue to talk with customers and regulators as the space evolves.”
To be sure, Starbucks adopting Bitcoin would be a major step forward for the cryptocurrency given the chain’s prominence at home and abroad. Additionally, as mentioned, Starbucks’ utilization of mobile payments has likely played a sizeable role in the adoption of such technology elsewhere. In fact the company actually tipped their hat this notion in their announcement of the Bakkt deal, with Partnership and Payments VP Maria Smith noting, “As a leader in Mobile Pay to our more than 15 million Starbucks Rewards members, Starbucks is committed to innovation for expanding payment options for our customers.”
You may also recall that this isn’t the first time Starbucks has discussed Bitcoin or the technologies its built on. Back in January then-Executive Chairman Howard Shultz expressed interest in blockchain, while warning nothing was impending. At the same time he stated, “I don’t believe that Bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future.” Of course, Shultz announced in June that he’d be stepping down from his role at the company, so it’s unclear whether that opinion could play a role in the chain’s decision to pursue Bitcoin or not.
Although they may not be accepting Bitcoin directly, Starbucks’ interest in Bakkt, cryptocurrencies, and digital assets is still notable nonetheless. At a time when the news around crypto has mostly been about investing and fluctuating prices, any step made toward treating these currencies as you would any other only helps to further their legitimacy. With that, it will certainly be interesting to see what comes of Bakkt, their partnership with Starbucks, and cryptocurrency acceptance in general.