Raise your hand if you have been to Starbucks in the last week. Now raise your other hand if you have an iPhone or BlackBerry. Now, drop everything, because whether you think of it this way or not, Starbucks launching mobile payments is huge news for location-based social -- even if it doesn't, yet, allow you to get an automatic check-in with your chai latte.
In case you haven't read it already, as of today, Starbucks is launching mobile payments nationwide, thus changing, with one last swipe of an old-fashioned Starbucks card, the way we handle small amounts of money, and the so-far niche behavior of location-based social.<
Think I'm exaggerating? Here's why I'm not. The ubiquity of Starbucks locations and iPhones (not to mention the near-term coolness factor inherent in saying, "I'll buy it with my phone"), make it so. Tens of millions of us both go to Starbucks and use an iPhone -often while in line at Starbucks -- every single day. Thus, an app that marries the two -- and builds on it with a layer of almost frictionless commerce -- is destined to reach critical mass. In turn, as Business Insider points out, this will spawn demand for mobile payments. If Starbucks has it, why can't McDonald's? This surge in mobile payments, in turn, will consummate another marriage, also in a more frictionless way: the union of where we are to our device.
As Starbucks and Foursquare are already partners in commerce, imagine a default that automatically generates a Foursquare check-in when you transact a mobile payment. No work required. No having to append your location when you tweet, or anything like that. That's exactly what I've been looking for! Being able to check in without doing a damn thing!
Maybe that sounds lazy, but we all know that the less work required by the user, the more palatable something becomes. Not only does the potential of marrying mobile payments to check-ins make this a more popular behavior (or non-behavior, since you're not doing anything), it also makes the road just a little smoother to my inevitable claiming of the mayorship of my local Starbucks, with all of the perks that come with it. Seriously though, making check-ins automatic with mobile payments, for those who opt-in, will obviously drive loyalty programs, including ones targeted to those who frequently publicize they are at a local store, becoming an ad vehicle, if you will. There are more ramifications, to be sure, but that's the primary one that jumps to my mind.
Perhaps you see this as only so much exaggeration. But when I think about mobile payments in the context of the nonprofessional circles in which I travel, it doesn't seem so at all. Anecdotally, I would say that many, many of the adults in my community use iPhones and BlackBerries. They are fully versed in the world of apps. They can also be frequently seen with a Starbucks cup in hand, and probably, if they were to open their wallets, would display a Starbucks Card. What you won't see them doing very much is using Facebook Places or Foursquare. If they know such things exist, they don't see the rationale for the behavior. As I've said before, it's not as though a mom with three kids has time to hang out with friends on-the-fly. However, add in mobile payments, and the promise of rewards for checking in, and the whole thing starts to make sense.
(BTW, I'll be moderating the panel "Mobile Social: Unlocking Its "Killer App" Badge" at the upcoming Social Media Insider Summit. Be there!)