SmoothPay – A Starbucks App for the Rest of Us

I’ve ranted before about the sorry state of mobile wallets in Canada. It’s a bit pathetic that the overwhelming majority of mobile transactions on this continent occur not through a standardized NFC tap-and-pay system, but instead a Starbucks app.

While the future of tap-and-pay languishes in the hands of carriers and credit card companies, Toronto-based startup SmoothPay is attempting something pretty clever—to make a Starbucks-like app that you can use anywhere.

I read about SmoothPay just yesterday in a feature on blogTO; the comparisons to Starbucks are theirs, not mine:

We haven’t seen anyone doing what we are doing here in Canada. There are many payment companies and many loyalty companies, but no one that effectively combines both (except for Starbucks, but they aren’t really our competitor). Mobile apps like theirs are actually great for us since it helps consumers become accustomed to using their phone to pay. If you know how to use the Starbucks app you use regularly, you’ll know how to use SmoothPay.

I myself have never used the Starbucks app, but yesterday I tried out SmoothPay at Red Eye Espresso in downtown Toronto.

SmoothPay Terminal

I walked in to discover that the SmoothPay terminal—basically an iPhone in a branded case on a branded base—was not actually on the counter but behind it. Some friendly chit-chat with the attendant barista confirmed that SmoothPay was used by some customers but not the majority of them.

SmoothPay Home Screen

I already had the SmoothPay app installed on my phone, so I fired it up and created an account. Once that was done I was presented with this screen. By sheer coincidence while I was doing this another customer walked in, ordered something and paid for it with SmoothPay!

When it was my turn the app presented me with a unique (to me) QR code for the iPhone—er, payment terminal—to scan. Practically speaking the transaction was about as easy as it would have been with tap-and-pay via NFC.

The owner of this particular establishment wasn’t there at the time, but according to the barista SmoothPay for businesses is a cheaper alternative to the more traditional credit card set-up from a bank.

Room for Improvement

I think SmoothPay is a great idea. It’s obvious challenge at the moment is wider adoption; right now the epicentre of supported businesses seems to be in and around the Ontario College of Art and Design. I’ve got some additional thoughts about a better user experience:

  1. I’d like a confirmation screen showing the exact amount I’m going to pay before I actually pay it;
  2. The ability to add a tip through the app would also be nice;
  3. Even if there are only a few businesses on board, the SmoothPay website needs to have a proper listing of who and where they are.

Bug Report

SmoothPay Crash

One issue that requires immediate attention: when I tap “Places” from SmoothPay’s home screen the app immediately (and repeatedly) crashes. This might be specific to the Nexus 5—another user of this same handset has reported the same bug (plus a workaround) in the comments section of that blogTO piece.

I’m hoping that this is a temporary issue, as I’d really like to see SmoothPay succeed and expand. I didn’t even get into the loyalty aspects of using it; I’ll report on that in a future post once I’ve a better understanding of how it works.