Thursday, March 2, 2006

Pay by Touch In-diapolis

Deanna Tratensek likes grocery shopping. The smooth ride through the aisles, the piling of favorite goodies into her cart and the fun of just being there, however, all end when she reaches the checkout counter.That's when the war begins with her purse as she struggles to find that debit card or checkbook. "So many times I have carried the wrong purse or forgotten my checkbook someplace else," Tratensek said. "I would be happy if I don't have to carry a purse or anything,"

Wishful thinking? Not anymore. Tratensek can get away with doing exactly that at the new Sunflower Market in Broad Ripple, the first store in Indiana to use a fingerprint-scanning technology called Pay By Touch.

At the checkout counter, Tratensek can touch a small screen, which identifies the geometry of her fingerprint, activating an automatic withdrawal from her bank account. There's no fumbling with the cash or sweating over the missing debit card. All you need is the power of touch, and you have your electronic purse.

Store officials say the system is secure and no actual image of the fingerprint is collected. "We feel we have developed a very fast way of flowing people through the store," said John Strum, director of Sunflower Market, which is owned by Supervalu.

Although new here, the technology has been used in other parts of the country for nearly four years, becoming popular with grocery retailers and other businesses in the last two years, said Michael Garry, technology and logistics editor at the Supermarket News.

Kroger uses the fingerprint technology to clock in its employees. Other grocers such as Piggly Wiggly, Albertsons, Thriftway and Supervalu subsidiaries Cub Foods and bigg's are using it at checkout aisles in Oregon, Washington, Iowa, New York, the Carolinas and elsewhere. Even small mom-and-pop stores are tuning in to the system.

The National Grocers Association, which represents independent grocery owners, said it doesn't know how many of its members use Pay By Touch.

"But we do know that we have many members who are looking into biometrics or using it," said Christine Cunnick, the association's director of communication at the National Grocers Association.

The Virginia-based trade association recently dedicated an entire day at its convention to talk about the technology and how it works.

"The response has been incredible, and we are adding more locations all the time," said Tara Rayder, senior marketing manager at Pay By Touch, based in San Francisco. The company, founded in 2002, is the leading supplier of the technology and now holds more than two dozen patents that cover the use of biometrics for authentication and making payments. Pay By Touch says it plans to expand to more than 10,000 locations coast to coast by the year's end.

What makes the system a hit with retailers is that it cuts down on the number of employees at the cash registers and speeds up the shopping experience, said Ray Burke, E.W. Kelley chair of business administration at Indiana University.

"Consumers can go to a store (and) have a great selection of products, but a bad experience at checkout can ruin the whole shopping experience," Burke said.

Trendy as it may be, some shoppers such as Adrienne Lovell of Broad Ripple are leery about leaving their prints at a store, but more people, like Tratensek, love the convenience of it. The little store down the street from Broad Ripple High School, where she works, is becoming her favorite grocery spot, she said. "I can go in and pay with my finger. How cool is that?" she said. "The best part is I don't ever have to search for my finger."