Sunday, February 12, 2006

No One Knows How You Are Paying

FREEPORT, IL - It's not “Big Brother.” It doesn't store your fingerprints for the thought police to plant somewhere, or sell your personal information. And, by the way, it's a convenient and highly secure way to pay for groceries.

Those sentiments may have come in handy for employees of Cub Foods, a Freeport store that's been a showcase for some of the newest trends in retailing innovation in recent months. The trend began months ago with self-pay kiosks, which store officials say have been a hit, even among their many older customers.

But the thing that has people talking, and educating customers, is the Pay By Touch system, in which customers who sign up for the service need only swipe a finger over a small scanner to pay at the cash register. Once a shopper opens an account using a kiosk at the busy store, the biometric image - not a fingerprint - of their finger is linked to a bank account. Biometric technology maps features of eyes, hands and fingers that are unique to each individual.When a shopper scans his or her finger on future visits - usually two fingers are scanned - that unique profile is instantly recognized, and the money taken from an account. Only about 5 percent of the population are unable to participate in the program due to such idiosyncrasies as odd-shaped or damaged fingers.

Pay By Touch also is capable of consolidating any loyalty and discount cards into a customer's profile. According to Store Manager Kurt Steffen, it's not all that different from using a debit card - it just doesn't take quite as long. And if you happen to forget your wallet or leave it in the car, you are still in business with Pay By Touch. Some experts also tout the fact that Pay By Touch can reduce consumer reliance on credit because the system is typically linked to a checking account, and consumers are more likely to use the most convenient option, such as, in this case, an appendage.

The system also can link to accounts set up for recipients of government food assistance, something store officials say helps eliminate the social stigma of using food stamps or LINC cards to buy food.

That is a major plus,” Steffen said. “
No one knows how you are paying.”

Comment: Then why do the "privacy experts" preach that biometrics are invasive?

As for those shoppers prone to Orwellian paranoia, Steffen said there's no cause for alarm. Personal data is secure, and will never be sold to any outside vendor, he said.Rose Bear, front-end manager at Cub Foods, has helped roll out the new system to employees and customers.

As part of the campaign, Cub employees are sporting lime green T-shirts inviting shoppers to ask them about Pay By Touch. She said that since Feb. 1, when the program began, the store has enrolled about 200 shoppers. “It has been going very well,” she said, adding that complaints and concerns about Pay By Touch technology, while spirited, have been few and far between.

Same goes for the store's relatively new self-checkout machines, which Steffen said were introduced as another convenience option for shoppers, not as a way to replace staff with machines.The biometric payment technology at Cub Foods and other national chains comes courtesy of San Francisco-based Pay By Touch, which is emerging as an industry leader in retail technology solutions.

The company is gobbling up smaller players in what used to be a niche market, and currently boasts a 7,000-store client base.In addition to competitive advantage, the finger-scan technology saves the store money by reducing fees paid to companies that process credit and debit card transactions.