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    TECHNOLOGY: Pay it forward

    To help speed up checkout times, White's Foodliner eliminated credit card processing at its stores, but kept credit card payments intact.

    For Pat White, owner of Kingman, Kan.-based six-store independent grocer White's Foodliner, the search for solutions to payment system problems used to be a scavenger hunt. A call to his payment processor, who always claimed innocence, would send him to check one system after another for the source of the glitch until he finally stumbled across the malfunction.

    Most times, however, White finally found the problem in the first place he'd looked: the supposedly innocent payment-processing system.

    "We'd call the [processor's] 800 number, but you could never talk to a real person," says White of the bad old days. "When we finally got ahold of them, they'd say 'It can't be our problem, it has to be someplace else,' so we'd start checking everything else, and usually it would come back a day or two later that it really was their problem. We've had times when the whole system was down."

    As bad as that situation was, it was just an occasional headache. The worse problem was the speed -- or lack thereof -- of the credit card-processing system when it was working.

    "We felt the speed at the front end wasn't quite where we wanted it," explains White. "We want people to shop slowly in our stores, but at the front end we want that process to be fast."

    In addition, White wanted to change his gift card program; it was October 2006 and the holidays were fast approaching. But the gift card program, which sees its strongest sales during the holiday months, was tied in to the slow processing system, and to make any changes would require a change in processors, which was no small task, according to White.

    Fortunately, Christmas came early for White, and his gift was a hosted payment-processing solution that not only worked at three times the speed of his former system and required only one phone call to service, but also enabled him to save time and money by switching to electronic check conversion and increasing the number of debit transactions of his customers.

    What's more, the system was up and running at all six stores by Christmas.

    "Everyone who was needed was there on-site," says White, but the system was so good that "what ended up happening was there was nothing for them to do."

    White's Foodliner became one of the first retailers to pilot StoreNext Connected Payments, an electronic payment program from Plano, Texas-based StoreNext Retail Technologies, LLC, Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based MTXEPS, Inc., and several retail industry payment processors.

    The Connected Payments system consists of the MTXEPS payment software tightly integrated with StoreNext's ISS45 and ScanMaster's POS solutions, and offered as a modular, subscription-based service. It requires no upfront software license costs to the retailer, and features credit-to-debit conversion, electronic check conversion and authorization, signature capture, gift card support, and automatic tender resolution. It can also be used with biometric payment systems.

    StoreNext handles all installation, maintenance, upgrades, and support. Omaha, Neb.-based reseller Retail Data Systems (RDS) installed the system at the grocer.

    "Speed of transactions is much faster," says White. "We were on a dial-up before; now we're on a high-speed connection."

    Contributing to the quickness of the new system is its "Swipe-Sign-OK" capability, which allows shoppers to pay by swiping their cards and keying in their PIN (for debit), or signing the signature capture pad (for credit), before the end of the order. They can even choose the cash-back option while the cashier scans the order.

    At the same time, the Connected Payments electronic check conversion capability saves time for the retailer. "Our cashiers don't have to count checks at the end of each shift," explains White. "Also, our bookkeepers don't have to verify the dollar amount or deposit the checks at the bank. You put the check into the reader, it's scanned, and then you give it back to the customer."

    The credit-to-debit conversion feature reduces transaction-processing fees for White by defaulting to the debit option -- asking for a PIN rather than a signature -- whenever a debit card is swiped. By requiring the additional step of opting out of the debit payment to use a credit card, White is finding that most shoppers don't bother, and just enter their PIN number. "This saves us a substantial amount on credit card fees," he says.

    To help speed up conversion rates, White's Foodliner has launched a chainwide training and promotional program that stressed that debit transactions are both more secure and more cost-efficient than credit transactions. To date, the company has converted about 80 percent of its credit card transactions to debit.

    Personal support

    Additionally, because the system is integrated into White's Foodliner's ISS45 POS system, which is also maintained by RDS, there's no more finger-pointing when a problem arises -- the reseller handles everything.

    The end result is that problems are resolved a lot more quickly. Says White, "It makes the experience better for the consumer."



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    A closer look

    Here are some of the specific capabilities of White's Foodliner's Connected Payments system:

    --Twelve-month data storage that enables year-over-year analysis and overcomes the PCI-mandated, 90-day limit for keeping data in the store.

    --Can customize WinEPS reports or build custom reports from scratch.

    --A "Payments Journal" that enables searches for transactions and transaction types across all or selected stores, in addition to date selection.

    --Drill-down functions that locate a transaction, its receipt, and signature, if available. Receipts and signatures and be e-mailed to the retailer's processor for quick resolution of disputed transactions.

    --Store-control "Payments Dashboard" user interface that customizes and implements all facets of a retailer's store payment setup, including features, parameters, transaction flow, and PIN pad shopper prompts and messages.

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