Starbucks' Schultz: There's a 'sea change' happening in retail

Cramer: Did Starbucks CEO 'bury the lead?'
Cramer: Did Starbucks CEO 'bury the lead?'

Fortunately, consumers can't make lattes online, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CNBC on Friday.

If they could, then Starbucks would be among the traditional companies that may get swept away by what Schultz described as an online "sea change" encroaching upon brick-and-mortar retailers, most evident from a lackluster holiday gift-giving season.

Reporting first-quarter earnings after the bell on Thursday, Starbucks said increased online shopping kept more U.S. consumers at home than usual during the holiday season, which meant less visits to coffee shops in malls and near retail outlets.

In an interview with CNBC, Schultz said he believes December represents an "inflection point" in the growing use of online shopping services and mobile payments.

"We are navigating through what I believe to be a significant sea change," Schultz said on "Squawk on the Street." "We're going to be talking about this for quite some time. I would not want to be a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer that did not have mobile payments, that did not have social and digital media. Those companies are going to find themselves significantly challenged in 2014 and beyond."

(Read more: A 'tsunami' of store closings seen hitting retail)

Howard Schultz, chairman and former CEO of Starbucks
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

For example, Starbucks shoppers booked $1.4 billion on to gift cards last year that haven't been activated yet. The amount in gift cards alone could help profit grow several times over the next year, if cardholders use them, Schultz said.

He also cited investments into express payment systems and less traditional retail outlets as ways the coffee company can survive the online migration disrupting the retail industry.

(Read more: Cramer: Why coffee remains key to the US economy)

"That is so emblematic of how Starbucks is benefiting from the convergence of what is happening online and in our stores," Schultz said.

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Sales at Starbucks coffee shops rose during the most recent quarter, but failed to meet Wall Street's estimates. The company's Americas region, which includes Starbucks cafes in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, reported that sales picked up by 5 percent during the last quarter, compared with an estimated 6.4 percent from analysts.

Starbucks shares pushed upward in the first hours of trading on Friday after increasing more than 38 percent over the past year. (Click here to get the latest Starbucks quote.)

—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. Follow him on Twitter at @jmorganteen and get the latest stories from "Squawk on the Street." Reuters contributed to this report.