Starbucks to step into social gifting via iMessage, Apple Pay

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Starbucks customers will soon be able to send Starbucks gifts to other iOS device users via Apple Inc.’s iMessage platform with Apple Pay.

The new feature will go live next month, Starbucks said during its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, where company execs outlined its growing array of "social gifting" and artificial intelligence-powered technology to enhance customer service.

Along with Starbucks' new iMessage gift feature, Microsoft Outlook in June added a feature enabling Starbucks customers to send gifts via email.

Though the Starbucks app is built on top of the company's prepaid and gift cards, the app itself has focused more on paying and replenishing funds. The rival Dunkin Brands has focused more heavily on digital gifting in the design of its own mobile app, which was built by Cardfree, a vendor founded by several people who worked on the original Starbucks Card app.

Starbucks also told shareholders it's expanding tests of voice-control features for its mobile app. About 100,000 iOS customers have access to the feature, which will roll out nationally later this year including to Android users, the company said.

The MyStarbucks barista feature leverages artificial intelligence to enable customers to place orders via voice command with iPhones and Amazon’s Alexa, and links to the 13 million-member Starbucks Rewards program.

So far this year, total spending by Starbucks Rewards members is up 20% over last year, reflecting a “more engaged” level of customer involvement via Starbucks’ Mobile Order and Pay feature within its app now used by one out of three people, the company said. Starbucks said its customers loaded $6 billion to its prepaid and mobile platforms in 2016.

Observers separately noted that Starbucks this month unveiled a new feature for the Apple Watch enabling users to display Starbucks Rewards on the watch screen via one of three graphic options.

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Mobile wallets Apple Pay Prepaid cards Starbucks