Starbucks' Square stumble shows POS ease-of-use never trumps training

Four months after Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) planned to begin accepting Square's mobile payments, the coffee colossus is finally finishing up training for all its associates. That's "finally" in the sense of "still not quite there yet."

"We are doing aggressive in-store training and working with stores on how the Square partnership works," Starbucks spokeswoman Linda Mills told PaymentsSource this week, after a string of media stories about baristas who'd never heard of Square, couldn't figure out the new POS buttons or couldn't successfully scan the Square code on customers' smartphone screens. At this point the scanners have all been recalibrated, Mills said. What's left is training for some associates.

At first glance, this problem seems baffling. The Square payment system that Starbucks is using is a lot like what baristas are accustomed to with Starbucks' own stored-value system: The customer calls up the image on his phone, the barista scans the phone's screen. It seems dead simple — but that may be what got Starbucks into trouble.

The Starbucks decision to roll out the new system less than three months after it was announced last August must have been based on exactly that perception: Square works just like what we've already got, and none of our associates has any trouble using that.

It's the "intuitive" fallacy, championed by software and hardware designers for three decades since Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) first Macintosh with its "intuitive" user interface: Our system is so intuitive, you won't need training. The problem: It's not actually that intuitive, which is why there's a thriving business in books about how to use intuitive software, laptops, phones — and presumably POS systems, too.

"We don't want to wait on innovation to be perfect," Starbucks' Mills said. Good, because it never will be. But making sure associates have demonstrated they can at least get money from customers? Yep, that's worth waiting for.

For more:

- See this PaymentsSource story
- See this Fast Company story

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