Starbucks Faces Allegations of Exploiting App Payments, Accused of Gaining $900 Million Unfairly

In a recent controversy, Starbucks is under scrutiny as a consumer protection group accuses the coffee giant of manipulating its app payment system to pocket a staggering $900 million in profit over the past five years. The Washington Consumer Protection Coalition has formally requested the state attorney general to investigate Starbucks' gift card and app payment practices, alleging that the company encourages customers to leave unspent funds in their prepaid accounts.

According to the coalition, Starbucks employs a manipulative app design that urges customers to retain unutilized money on their cards and apps. Chris Carter, the campaign manager for the group, emphasized the significance of seemingly insignificant amounts left on the payment platform, stating, "A few dollars here and there left on a payment platform may not sound like a lot, but it adds up." The group claims that over the last five years, Starbucks has reported nearly $900 million in unspent gift card and app money as corporate revenue, ultimately boosting profits and inflating executive bonuses.

The heart of the issue lies in the design features of Starbucks' mobile app, which, according to the coalition's formal complaint, manipulates users into leaving funds on the payment platform. The complaint highlights that customers loaded approximately $15 billion onto Starbucks Cards in the last year alone, and the company benefits from these funds as a source of interest-free operating capital. Starbucks allegedly employs various digital design features to maximize the flow of funds onto its Payment Platform.

Starbucks, however, vehemently disputes these allegations. The coffee company insists that customers have the freedom to spend the entire balance on their app or gift card. Starbucks spokesperson Sam Jefferies clarified to Fortune that customers can use the remaining balance and pay any outstanding amount in cash at the store, effectively reaching a zero balance.

In response to the accusations, Jefferies stated, "Starbucks is committed to working with the State of Washington to ensure it remains in compliance with all state laws and regulations." The company maintains its stance that customers are not coerced into leaving unspent money on their cards and apps, emphasizing the flexibility of payment options available to them.

As the controversy unfolds, Starbucks finds itself at the center of a legal battle, with consumer advocates pushing for a thorough investigation into the alleged exploitative practices surrounding the coffee giant's app payment system.