This fall, Starbucks will accept payments through a mobile app developed by a company named Square. Customers will be able to pay by holding up their phones and allowing Starbucks employees to automatically charge the customers’ cards.

We are already seeing apps like this in the parking industry through pay-by-phone parking vendors. But Starbucks is taking it a step further–soon, their customers will not even need to take their phones or wallets out of their pockets. The Square mobile app will use the phone’s GPS system to detect that a customer walked in and will automatically connect the customer to the store’s computerized checkout software. Square CEO Jack Dorsey explains, “You can actually walk into a merchant, keep your phone in pocket, keep your wallet in your pocket, and a picture of you pops up on the register. … You can just say, ‘I’m Laurie, and I’d like a cappuccino,” and your card is charged in the background.”[1]

Having visited nearly every booth at the IPI Conference & Expo, I don’t doubt parking vendors are exploring payment methods through companies such as Square as I type this entry; we are already very close thanks to the use of technologies such as near field communications (NFC) and quick response (QR) codes. Imagine driving into a gated parking garage, running an errand, and driving out without stopping. Entering the garage in your vehicle activates the mobile GPS parking timer, and exiting the garage stops the mobile GPS timer that charges your account. No stopping. No vehicle idling. No cash handling. No cashiering. No pay-on-foot machine. Nothing.

Some people would love this. As an introvert, sometimes it is difficult for me to carry on a conversation with the gas attendant about the weather or the recent rise in gasoline costs. On the other hand, I often find myself wanting to take a Louisville Slugger to the automated fuel dispenser, after playing 20 questions with the screen: “Would you like a car wash today?” “Would you like to use your debit card to save $0.03 per gallon?” “Are you a loyalty member?”

I go to Starbucks nearly every day. The employees know I like an extra shot of mocha, and they know I’m allergic to wheat. They know the names of my wife and children. They even got me a birthday card on my actual birthday.

I’m not advocating for or against automated cashiering–there are many benefits to both. I just want to challenge you take a look at your customer base and see what it is they want. Are they business men and women in a hurry to get to work and get home, or are they grieving hospital guests looking for comfort and a smile from a friendly cashier? Or can both systems be implemented blending automated cashiering with an employee present during peak periods? Technology has done miracles for the parking industry and saved our owners and clients millions of dollars in captured revenue. Just make sure that as a parking and transportation professional, you are doing your homework and managing the technology efficiently, before a machine takes over the operation and the human connection gets lost in techno space.