Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Pay by Touch Hits the UK

First European launch of a biometric payment system.

The Midcounties Co-operative goes live with its fingerscan payment system on March 8 starting in Oxford with its Headington store and following next week with its outlets in Carterton and Summertown, also in Oxford.

While researching different payment options, the Co-op – formed last year by the merger of Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester and the West Midlands co-ops – found the US based Pay by Touch company. They started a series of tests and pilots examined the data and the result is this week’s European launch of the system.

The Midcounties Co-op has gained a formidable reputation for its use of innovative technology and – as the OS&G – was one of the first in the country to introduce self-checkout systems four years ago.

The Pay by Touch system is gaining in popularity in the US although this is the first implementation in Europe. Customers register their fingerprint linked to specific payment cards and then simply pay by touching a fingerprint scanner in the store.

The database of prints is stored in the US by the IT vendor and in pre-launch trials it has taken three seconds for test prints to be approved.

“That is quicker that chip and PIN,” says Bill Laird, chief operating officer, trading, at Midcounties Co-op.

The Co-op started looking at fingerprint ID more than two years ago as a means of checking on shopper’s ages for alcohol purchases at its self-checkout units. “In Oxford we have a lot of students who often look younger than they are,” says Laird, “so we thought of fingerprint ID as a quick and efficient means of confirming their ages for self-checkout as otherwise supervisors had constantly to intervene and that slowed down the process and reduced the benefit.”

In the US retailers such as Thriftway in Seattle, have found wide acceptance for fingerprint payments. “We encourage shoppers to make their debit card the first choice card payment when they register,” says Paul Kapioski, president and owner of CAP Food Services which runs Thriftway.

“This has helped drive payments away from credit cards which are more expensive for us to accept.”As a result debit card transactions at the store have increased from 38% to 64% in the past two years. Since card transactions payments are 72c for credit and 32c for debit payments this clearly represents significant payback for the scheme.

According to Kapioski in the first 12 weeks of implementation some 25,000 customer enrolled for Pay by Touch and chargebacks have declined from four to five a month to just two in the past year. “It is a real deterrent to fraudsters,” he says, “and has also increased throughput at our checkouts.” The system has proved especially popular with the elderly who now feel more secure when they shop as they have no need to bring cash or cards to the store so are less fearful of potential muggers.

At Oxford, Bill Laird is confident of similar results: “Initial reaction from test shoppers is very positive,” he says.