Mobile payments are soaring at Starbucks, flopping everywhere else

The Verge picks up on some fresh data from Berg Insight that highlights how effectively Starbucks is leveraging mobile payments. Berg estimates mobile payments accounted for a mere $500 million in transactions in 2012, with Starbucks’ smartphone apps powering “the vast majority” of those purchases. Meanwhile, “mobile wallets that can be used at multiple merchants have yet to gain traction,” Berg observes.

I wrote more than a year ago that while Starbucks’ success is impressive, very few companies are in any position to attempt to duplicate it. Starbucks’ clientele is affluent and relatively tech-savvy, making it low-hanging fruit for a cutting-edge mobile payments system that incorporates an attractive, valuable incentive program.

And I was surprised to read that Berg predicts the North American mobile payments market will explode over the next few years, generating $44 billion in transactions in 2017, with “universal mobile wallets such as those provided by Google, Isis and (the retailer-backed) MCX” fueling most of those in-store purchases. Not only does that seem wildly optimistic to me, it also hints that we’ll see at least three competing payment systems gain traction in the next few years. I find that very difficult to believe considering that these competitors have thus far only hindered the growth of the overall mobile payments systems.