September 22, 2009

Blackhawk Network Announces Personalized Open Network Rewards Visa® Gift Card

Incentive & Rewards Program now offers both closed and open loop card options, Customized for individual company programs.

PLEASANTON, CALIF.,– September 21, 2009 – Blackhawk Network, the largest third-party provider of prepaid gift-cards, announced today that their Rewards Visa Gift Card will now be offered to businesses through Blackhawk Network’s Incentives and Rewards business-to-business program.

The Visa Gift Cards can be customized with a variety of personalization options, such as company logo and branding, custom card and carrier messaging, variable expiration dates, and variable value loads. The card can be redeemed anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

“By launching the Blackhawk Rewards Visa Gift Card, we’re giving businesses greater choice and flexibility in the products they choose for their own incentive and motivation programs,” said Talbott Roche, senior vice president at Blackhawk Network. “Consumers want variety and selection; therefore we listened and tailored our program accordingly. It’s a great pleasure to announce that our Incentives and Rewards program offers all categories of cards, including open network cards that can be customized for individual needs.”

Blackhawk Network’s Incentives and Rewards Program offers a variety of prepaid products including the best brands in many categories such as fashion, home, open network, ticket, sports and local merchant prepaid cards. Retail partners include; Applebee’s®, Bass Pro Shops®, Chili's Grill & Bar®, The Home Depot®, iTunes®, Regal Entertainment Group®, SpaFinder®, Travelocity®, and more.

Blackhawk offers a variety of fulfillment options and premium services. Companies can tailor their gift card program to fit their client’s needs, via print on demand technology, customization, personalization and robust reporting options. With Blackhawk’s remote activation capabilites, individual recipients can activate their gift cards on demand, creating a secure transaction for the client, and flexibility for the recipient.

About Blackhawk Network

Blackhawk Network, a subsidiary of Safeway Inc., is a prepaid and payments network, a market leader in card-based financial solutions and the largest provider of third-party prepaid cards. Blackhawk Network develops unique products in easy-to-use formats and delivers them to consumers through an exclusive retail network of leading grocery, mass, convenience, drug and specialty retailers. The network includes more than 80,000 storefronts and reaches more than 165 million consumers each week. Headquartered in Pleasanton, California, Blackhawk Network has offices in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. For more information about Blackhawk Network visit www.blackhawknetwork.com.

The Blackhawk Rewards Visa Gift Card is issued by MetaBank™ pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc.

About MetaBank™

MetaBank is a federally-chartered savings bank regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision. Meta Financial Group, Inc.® is the holding company for MetaBank, Meta Payment Systems®, and Meta Trust Company®. For more information visit http://www.metacash.com

Posted by staff at 08:49 AM

July 28, 2009

Patent News - InComm and Stored Value Cards

Announcement by InComm that it has received notice of allowance for patent for prepaid or stored value card redemption via point-of-sale. Fairly vague but appears that some unique identifiers which are printed or encoded in magstripe ensure accuracy. Printing and magstripe may be cost-effective now but at some point they will go away?

InComm Secures New Patent
Covers System and Method for Stored Value Card Authorization
ATLANTA, GA (July 20, 2009) InComm, a provider of prepaid transaction processing and electronic point-of-sale (POS) distribution solutions, has received a notice of allowance from the US Patent and Trademark Office for its newest operational patent. The InComm team received notice on July 9, 2009 that their patent for the System and Method For Authorizing Stored Value Card Transactions had been issued. This patent is the newest addition to a suite of 24 U.S. patents and 34 international patents that define the retail process for the prepaid industry, and is the culmination of InComm's patent protection efforts in the POSA arena over the past 10 years.

InComm's latest patent protects a computer-implemented method for point-of-sale activation, deactivation and redemption of prepaid or stored value cards via point-of-sale terminals and applies to all types of prepaid cards, including wireless, 3rd party gift, open loop stored value, music, gaming, content and more. Additionally, InComm says its patented system ensures accurate processing and authorization of all prepaid point-of-sale transaction types by utilizing unique identification numbers that may be printed and/or magnetically encoded on the card.

"This latest patent reinforces our commitment to the industry, to our retail partners and to consumers," said Smith. "This process protects the InComm retail partner business model and allows InComm to provide a secure, cost-effective supply of products while allowing retailers an unparalleled opportunity to offer these products to their consumers. This is the evolution of the marketplace using technology that permits secure merchandising of stored-value products."

There are a wide variety of prepaid services that are and continue to be accommodated by prepaid and stored value cards. The most common include wireless, 3rd party gift, open loop stored value and content programs.

Source: InComm (www.incomm.com)

Posted by staff at 07:04 AM

March 30, 2009

Rixty Partners With Coinstar To Bring Online Payments To Teens

Today Rixty announced that it would partner with Coinstar in the May rollout of its new youth-oriented payment service intended to help unbanked teens pay for microtransactions more easily online. When Rixty launches, users will be able to feed coins and cash into any Coinstar kiosk and have the money added to an online Rixty account that they can then use to pay for virtual goods and other transactions in any of Rixty's partner platforms, which will include both online games and virtual worlds.

"We want to focus on providing a payment mechanism that lets young users meet their own needs without extra fees, that is also convenient and economical. We feel everything on the marketplace today fails on one of those counts. Credit cards and mobile phones aren't youth-controlled, and prepaid credit cards are very expensive and have a lot of fees for reloading," said Ted Sorom, CEO of Rixty. "Everything in the marketplace today doesn't really meet the spending needs of the youth consumer."

While there is usually a small service fee charged for use of Coinstar kiosks, Rixty users will be able to use Coinstar to add funds to their online accounts without being charged any extra fees. Coinstar estimates that $10.5 billion in loose change is sitting in American households right now, roughly $90 per household. Rixty hopes that, thanks to the Coinstar partnership, the roughly 32 million potential users in the target 13-24 unbanked audience start feeding that $90 per household into Rixty accounts so they can spend it online in games and virtual worlds.

There are about 10,000 Coinstar kiosks nationwide, usually located at local grocery stores, convenience stores, and shopping malls. Users adding change and loose bills to the Coinstar machine can opt to get their "payout" in the form of a Rixty voucher containing a unique PIN number. Users than enter the PIN at their online Rixty account to add the value of the funds they deposited in Coinstar to their online spending account. Rixty also intends to sell prepaid cards at convenience stores, available at initial price points as low as $5, that can be linked directly to Rixty online accounts.

Sorom was able to name vSide, GamesCampus, NHN USA, Perfect World International, and Ntreev USA as platforms that would support Rixty payments at launch in May. Deals are still being worked out, but Sorom expects that at launch Rixty will be supporting roughly 50 different games and other platforms through deals with about 10 to 15 different partners. Integration with Rixty involves installing Rixty's API, which is designed to be compatible with subscription fee payments as well as microtransactions and virtual goods purchases.

“Today, a sixteen year old with $20 in his pocket can spend that money on anything he wants at a local store. Rixty believes he should have that same freedom online. No other online payment system addresses the teen payment challenge as completely,” said Sorom. “We’re thrilled to have a local presence through our Coinstar partnership that will allow teens to connect to the world of online entertainment."

What Rixty is offering sounds very similar to the Ukash voucher system already popular in Europe and other parts of the world, but not available in the US. While services that let you pay across several different games are nothing new, the Coinstar partnership and the ensuing ability for teens to convert change into funds for online payments is interesting, a sort of Spare Change for the unbanked set. Rixty will definitely be a pay provider to keep an eye on later this year.

Posted by staff at 12:25 PM

February 13, 2008

Gift and Prepay Intelligence Newsletter

Latest newsletter from Gift and Prepaid Intelligence. Events and news in the prepay world.


February 8th, 2008

ALTAIR: One of ’10 to Watch in 2008’

Altair Financial Services International Plc has been selected by InteleCard News, as one of the "10 TO WATCH 2008". This prestigious survey highlights the success of prepaid products and services around the globe.

The 10 to Watch comprise a veritable smorgasbord of companies, many positioning themselves as major players with innovative product offerings in the global marketplace. Their reach extends to every corner of the world, and they’re dedicated to opening new lines of communication that make life easier for customers with simple, convenient products and services.

We look forward to supporting the growth of Altair, a Global Member of the Network, over the coming year.

First Data to Provide Innovative Prepaid Card Solution for Cadooz

First Data Corp., a Global Member of the Giftex Prepay Network, has announced that it has signed a contract with cadooz AG, a leading provider of corporate gift and incentive vouchers in Germany, to deliver card-based incentive and reward solutions.
Read more at http://www.paymentsnews.com/2008/01/first-data-to-p.html

Incrementality or Cannibalisation? The Multi-Million Dollar Question
In our jargon-filled world, why do two six-syllable words matter much? Because they refer to where we’re making money, and where we’re losing it. That matters. This article will help you understand the unspoken fear of retailers and other customer owners: are we eating into our own profits?

For access to full details of this study including comments from some of the major players in the industry, click through to http://www.giftexprepay.com/order.php

MasterCard ARC Travel Card Hopes to be in the Pockets of People Around the World

MasterCard has introduced its new prepaid travel card in hopes to tap into a market that is projected to reach $9 billion by 2010. Cardholders will be able to obtain local currency at any one of MasterCard’s ATMs worldwide.

The cards will be equipped with PayPass contactless technology and will allow for the management of funds online. Each card can be loaded up to $9,500 and costs between $14.95 and $29.95 to purchase. Also, up to four cards can be purchased for one account. Features and benefits will include zero liability, emergency cash/card replacement, lost luggage and purchase assurance.


PayPal invests in fraud service
With the issue of fraud being high on the agenda of payment services worldwide, it comes as no surprise that one of the world’s biggest names in e-payments has recently invested significantly in this area. With the major players needing to be at the cutting edge of fraud management, PayPal has announced an agreement to acquire Fraud Sciences Ltd., a privately-held Israeli company with expertise in online risk tools, in a cash transaction with an aggregate transaction value of approximately $169 million.


Giftex Event Review – ‘Planning to Perform in Prepay’

The first Giftex Prepay Network Europe event of 2008 was held at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Victoria and brought together prepay specialists for discussion of hot topics within the prepay sector. The event was hosted by Travel Tags Narboni and Salans.

Atle Torud and Amanda Mickelburgh of Retail Decisions, a world leader in fraud prevention, supplied insight and drove discussion on ways to combat fraudulent activity. Professor Dan Horne, the world’s leading expert in prepay cards and consumer behaviour, shared the results of the US market over the holiday period 2007/08.

To find more about how to join the Network, please call Andrew Maxwell by phone on 004420 7720 1810 or by email at andrew.maxwell@giftexprepay.com

New Giftex Prepay Network Members
We are pleased to welcome two more members to the Network who have both joined in January.
Welcome to Debenhams, one of the most popular and recognised British retail names, known for its outstanding retailing qualities and for being the first retailer in the UK to have a gift card.

Welcome to Card Commerce, a leading provider of systems and services that allows organisations to harness the benefits of gift cards and other types of pre-paid debit card. Watch out for Card Commerce’s new processing capability that promises to transform the penetration of gift cards in the UK and Europe.

And welcome to 'Starbucks Coffee Company, providing an uplifting experience that enriches people's lives one moment, one human being, one extraordinary cup of coffee at a time'.

To find out who else is in the Network and to learn more about how to become a member click here.

Upcoming Events in the World of Prepay

Giftex Prepay Network North America - ‘Expo Gift and Prepay Symposium‘, Las Vegas, USA, 2/3 March 2008 (Presentation from Professor Dan Horne and Tony Craddock)

An intimate in-depth exploration of topical issues facing our members and selected guests. There has never been anything quite like this in the prepay world so far. Senior players at the most successful companies in gift and prepay. A symposium-style event to stimulate fresh ideas and resolve pressing problems.

The Symposium is a chance to create a meaningful context for the Expo itself, the world’s leading conference in prepay. And build relationships with the biggest hitters in prepay. Attendance is by invitation only. To find out who is going to be there, ask Casey to send you the guest list.

Prepaid Card Expo 2008, Las Vegas, USA, 3-5 March 2008 (Presentation by Professor Dan Horne)

The world’s largest gathering of prepaid, stored value and emerging payments professionals, with more than 2,400 people from over 900 companies attending in 2007. This is an excellent opportunity to fully capitalize on the market opportunity that prepaid cards provide, to understand the latest trends and developments in the industry, to stay up-to-date on new technologies, and foster relationships with your peers, clients, and partners. Go to http://www.iirusa.com

Retail Gift Cards in New Zealand, Auckland, 10 March 2008 (chaired by Tony Craddock)

Leigh Mardon New Zealand in association with Giftex Prepay is holding a seminar for retailers on The Top 15 Tips to Gift Card Success. Discussions will focus on broadening the appeal of plastic through gift card innovation with topics including:

• How can open and closed loop thrive together?

• How are retailers increasing sales and profitability?

• Adding functional services to gift cards

• The explosion of gift card malls in the UK

For more information and to obtain a complimentary guest pass, contact Casey.

Prepaid Card Australia Summit 2008, Sydney, Australia, 13 March 2008 (Presentation by Tony Craddock)

Prepaid Cards Australia is a high-quality conference featuring international and local keynote presentations from world leading authorities, best practice case studies, interactive panel sessions and facilitated workshops. For more information, go to http://www.terrapinn.com/2008/pre_au/

Prepaid Card Asia Summit 2008, Singapore, 11 April 2008 (Presentation by Tony Craddock)

The 13th annual Cards Asia 2008 is the region’s only international showcase of the latest smart card technologies and applications. The speakers will address key issues such as the future of prepaid in Asia, regulatory concerns and promoting best practice.

For more information, go to http://www.terrapinn.com/2008/prepaid/index.stm

Prepaid Commerce: The Future of Cash, London, UK, 23-25 June 2008 (Presentation by Tony Craddock)

The first conference from Clarion with an impressive agenda and broad reach. For more information on attending or presenting, go to www.prepaid-commerce.com.

Posted by staff at 09:34 AM

Prepaid Card Solution for Germany

First Data Corp. has announced that it has signed a contract with cadooz AG, a leading provider of corporate gift and incentive vouchers in Germany, to deliver card-based incentive and reward solutions.


Payments News: First Data To Provide Prepaid Card Solution For Cadooz - January 23, 2008

First Data To Provide Prepaid Card Solution For Cadooz

First Data Corp. has announced that it has signed a contract with cadooz AG, a leading provider of corporate gift and incentive vouchers in Germany, to deliver card-based incentive and reward solutions.

Established in 2000, and headquartered in Hamburg, cadooz delivers a wide range of incentive programmes and solutions, including paper-based and online gift certificates and individually tailored reward systems. Together with First Data, cadooz will now also offer electronic card-based products, using the latest innovations in 'controlled loop' prepaid card technology, where use of the prepaid card is restricted to specific merchants.

To meet the requirements of cadooz, First Data is leveraging its pan-regional capabilities to provide processing as well as card procurement, personalisation and customer service. First Data enables cadooz to deliver targeted incentive programmes in association with a selection of leading retailers and other organisations in Germany. These programmes will deliver the benefits of scheme-branded cards that are accepted by a select number of retailers.

cadooz's innovative decision to migrate to card-based products was driven by a desire to make its payment product offerings more attractive to consumers, retailers and other organisations. Card-based products offer cadooz and its partners the flexibility and security of scheme-branded cards as well as the opportunity to drive significant processing efficiencies.

cadooz is entering the prepaid card market with ambitious expansion plans. "We envisage cadooz as a full service provider of online, paper- and card-based incentive and gift solutions and we intend to develop our brand to become an international market leader," stated Stephan Baumann, Head of Partner Management.

Mark Gregg, CEO, added: "First Data is a global company with strong prepaid expertise and the ideal service provider to help us achieve our goals."

Stefan Klestil, President of First Data's Central Europe region, added: "The launch of card-based products will deliver significant efficiencies to cadooz and support the company's expansion in Germany and internationally. We are very pleased to apply our expertise and global experience in delivering prepaid programmes to support this expansion."

First Data's range of prepaid services enables banks, merchants and businesses to create compelling prepaid propositions across the world utilising a proven, robust platform. Available across closed, controlled and open loop, First Data's flexible service creates prepaid products for hundreds of brands globally. First Data is a leading processor of prepaid transactions, servicing approximatley1.6 billion transactions for more than 41,000 client brands in 30 countries.

Posted by staff at 09:05 AM

January 16, 2008

Prepaid News from around the world

News and predictions from Global Prepay Intelligence.Mainly focused on European, the US market is also covered. We think the first interactive DVD gift cards just went on sale in Sainsbury stores in U.K. And yes, the phrase "patent holder" was included...Also personalized gift cards from VISA at GiftCardLab.com now...


Prepay Predictions for 2008
………………………………
Visa jumps on the personalisation train

Visa has taken up retailer strategies to increase their gift card sales. Visa has launched a website, GiftCardLab.com, where users can personalise gift cards with photos and engraved messages. Consumers can choose from stock images or upload their own photos.

The cards cost $5.95 each and can be loaded with any amount from $10 to $250. Once purchased using a credit card, the personalised gift card can be mailed to the buyer or directly to the recipient.
………………………………
It seems that the lacklustre economic climate in Europe and the US could actually be a boon to the prepaid industry.

The downturn in the economy has already helped the industry, with more people moving from routinely paying with credit cards and towards using prepaid cards, according to David Pack, Business Development Manager at Altair Financial Services. In addition to letting consumers easily manage their money, prepaid cards help consumers to avoid spending money they may not have yet through credit cards. The weak economy may inspire more purchasing through prepaid cards, particularly in corporate environments, offering savings in efficiency and fraud reduction, according to Lisa Walker of First Data International, an independent transaction processor.

Now that they have dealt with accommodating their POS to chip and PIN, IT professionals will be able to concentrate on other advancements, such as DVD gift cards and mobile payments in 2008. “Green” gift card solutions will also feature in 2008, as will the use of new carriers such as mobile/ cellphones.

Despite challenges, industry experts predict growth next year not just in the gifting market but also in other areas of prepay. So let’s enter 2008 with a tone of cautious optimism. Consumers like the way that prepay products solve their problems, from budgeting and payment-tracking to gift-buying and holiday-funding. For those that get it right, 2008 will be a year of a few star performers building on a solid, growing base.


InComm Europe takes interactive Manchester United gift card into Sainsbury’s

The UK’s first ever interactive DVD gift cards went on sale in November 2007, when market leader InComm Europe introduced the Manchester United range to its gift card shops in Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.

From a provider’s point of view, the interactive gift cards can be used to track purchases and consumer activity, creating the opportunity to personalise subsequent marketing and promotional information based on consumer preference. Peter Ellul, CEO of Serious, the international patent holders and publishers of interactive cards, explained that ‘digital gift cards can ultimately improve consumer experience and therefore increase loyalty and sales.’

UK Health Check

Gift card usage continues to increase in the UK. Giftex Prepay conducted a study in October 2007, sponsored by the VA, the UK trade body representing gift vouchers, cards and stored value solutions. It set out to assess the UK
consumer’s experience and attitudes toward gift cards. The survey reported that the average number of gift cards purchased per person surveyed was 0.79. But those who had bought gift cards bought an average of 2.74 each. Those who experience gift cards are likely to lead to buy more of them. This is good news for the voucher and card industry.

For more details on the findings of this Research Report or to find out how to obtain your 2 free issues of Global Prepay Intelligence, the world’s only independent journal on gift and prepay, click through to
http://www.giftexprepay.com/offer.php or email casey.mcgrath@giftexprepay.com

For complete newsletter you need to visit http://www.giftexprepay.com

Posted by staff at 07:33 AM

September 26, 2007

Tradeshows - Prepaid Card Summit

October 24 and 25th in London is the Prepaid Cards Summit 2007. Banking group includes, Alliance & Leicester, JP Morgan, Western Union, Visa Europe. Retail has Sainsbury. Nice speaker set.

Posted by staff at 08:46 AM

May 25, 2005

Financial Services to Grocers and C-Stores

Convenience and grocery stores are in trouble. Long-standing revenue streams like cigarettes are disappearing in a puff of smoke. Intense pricing pressure from Wal-Mart has flattened margins for the foreseeable future.

An aging store asset portfolio drains available working capital. And the channels have blurred with Starbucks coffee at Safeway and gasoline at Wal-Mart.


story link

Convenience and grocery executives are desperately looking for new growth drivers. And smartly, theyre looking beyond physical products you can only stock the shelves with so much stuff and theyre finding success with services.

The success convenience and grocery chains are having with prepaid wireless has led them to look for other services beyond prepaid and to evaluate the consumers who are purchasing prepaid phones and refill. These chains are finding a plethora of deliverable services which, like prepaid wireless, are targeted toward the unbanked market people who through choice or necessity manage their finances outside of the traditional banking system. Some call this activity fringe banking.

The unbanked population, estimated at over 40 million strong, or over 30 percent of the U.S. population, is made up primarily of teens and young adults, minorities and the working poor. Theyre already shopping in convenience and grocery locations, yet these locations have not offered the services they need in order to manage and access their money, forcing them to make special trips to outlets outside of their daily routine.

Services expand
Convenience and grocery stores will now become banks for the unbanked. Theyll seek to offer point-of-sale or kiosk-driven services, which will allow unbanked customers to manage their money, pay their bills, purchase and consume products and services, and make their lives a bit simpler.

Prepaid wireless is one service already offered at many of these stores. This market has exploded from $4.5 billion in 2000 to over $23 billion in 2004 driven by youth, minorities and unbanked customers. Another service, prepaid debit cards, is currently a $600 million market. The Pelorus Group expects it to grow to over $5 billion by 2007. Next Estate Communications reports that 65 percent of prepaid debit users are under the age of 35 years.

Payroll check cashing can also be offered. The Financial Service Centers of America (FiSCA) reports that this $60 billion industry processes over 180 million checks a year, growing 10 percent annually. Walk-up bill payment would be another convenience for the unbanked. Checkfree, the online bill-payment service, reports that 20 percent of American households regularly pay their bills in person.

Offering money transfer service can be lucrative for convenience and grocery stores. Celent expects the global money transfer market to surpass $170 billion in 2006. InterAmerican Bank reports that over 60 percent of foreign-born U.S. Latino adults send money back home regularly.

Retailers look for partners
Overburdened convenience and grocery merchants will look to one-stop full-service distributors to carry the load bringing in the offers, enabling the transactions and developing the signage and display. For these distributors, banking services would allow them to establish deep relationships with the merchant from a product portfolio and technology perspective and would enable them to cash in for years to come.

Distributors of prepaid telecom have been playing a key role in the U.S. prepaid supply chain securing the locations, deploying the delivery technology, communicating the offer and enabling the transaction. But margins are getting squeezed; many of the best locations have been secured, competition is fierce and consolidation is rife. The addition of new revenue-driving products and services to the portfolio is crucial.

Offerings that appeal to the same consumer base as prepaid telecom, utilizing the same point-of-sale or kiosk-based delivery technology, make fringe banking, or banks for the unbanked, a natural for distributors to take on and for retailers to migrate toward.

To be successful in this space, distributors will need to:
develop the relationships with the necessary product and service providers to form the comprehensive bank for the unbanked offering
educate their retail partners as to the opportunity and the requirements
create the point-of-sale and/or kiosk delivery network necessary to successfully deliver the offering
design clear, concise and relevant marketing communications inside and outside the store to drive adoption and demand
develop a deep and continual understanding of the unbanked consumer, including who they are, what they need, how they want it delivered and how to reach them

Achieving critical mass
This year promises to be the year fringe banking breaks out. Circle K and 7-Eleven are rolling out check-cashing services to all stores. Stored value gift and debit cards are all the rage. Prepaid wireless continues to explode. Kiosks and multiapplication point-of-sale devices make product delivery possible. All of this is happening while the nation sees a continued explosion in Hispanic population, an increase in population living below the poverty level and a reduction in the number of traditional banking outlets.

Retailers, distributors, processors and product and service providers are all taking note, and many will develop a sense of urgency in 2005 to win in this space, to prosper and to survive. Will you?

The author is president of Tefisto Partners, a consultancy focused on the stored value and fringe banking space. He can be contacted at (602) 750-8055 or visit the company website at www.tefistopartners.com.

Posted by keefner at 02:40 PM

January 11, 2005

Kiosks as Distribution Channels

Kiosks Are Viable Prepaid Distribution Channels

The Prepaid Press
Jan 04 2005 : Self-serve kiosks that are deployed as a prepaid distribution channel enable retailers to build loyalty in the underbanked market while stitching together multiple electronic points of sale at a store. The prepaid industry is currently integrating prepaid debit cards with electronic delivery and transaction systems, and self-serve kiosks are growing as a customer outreach channel. To this end, a retailer that issues prepaid debit cards at a self-serve kiosk can meet their customers' immediate financial needs and enable those customers to avail of services that were previously beyond their reach.

If prepaid cards are available from a self-service kiosk, consumers can request a card through this channel and load funds to the card either on the spot, or at a separate service point. Essentially, this prepaid card is a conduit to financial services offered by the retailer, and to card payment services for Internet, telephone or kiosk purchases. For prepaid wireless services, similarly, the prepaid debit card can be designated as a payment card for topping up an account that is low in airtime, while giving the provider access to the customer's personal data for marketing purposes.

Posted by Craig at 02:33 PM

November 05, 2004

Prepaid Case Studies

As the category expands to include more offerings, retailers require a POSA solution. Nice article.

On a daily basis, the demand for prepaid products at retail increases. Mechants are finding that if they don't don't offer the latest and greatest, customers will go elsewhere. While many large retailers have already integrated a point-of-sale (POS) solution to sell prepaid telecom and other prepaid products, many smaller chains and independents across the United States are now jumping on the POS bandwagon and investing in technology. Many are realizing it's a necessity, not an option.

The emergence of prepaid wireless now drives the need for a POS solution that offers customers a choice of wireless providers and product offerings. The following case studies demonstrate the different ways in which providers are delivering customized solutions to ensure their retail customers can compete effectively.

Case study #1
Supplying the demand
Prepaid wireless forced the issue to deploy a POSA solution

Simple Network Inc. is a switched provider of international phone cards that built its success on servicing the ethnic phone card market specifically, callers to India and Mexico. By 2003, Simple was servicing 15 distributors throughout the United States and six internationally, which represented thousands of retailers. In November 2003, the company acquired SKP, a leading distributor that gave the company direct control of 1,500 retailers.

At that point, Simple was receiving many requests from retailers for expansion of their prepaid lines to include the rapidly growing category of prepaid wireless. Until then, Simple's business had been entirely "cash and carry," with retailers paying in advance for live phone cards.

But with the dollar amounts associated with carrying six leading wireless carriers' brands, each with retail denominations ranging from $10 to $100, even retailers who were demanding prepaid wireless were reluctant to pay in advance the high dollar amounts needed to carry the inventory.

"For years, we ignored POSA, despite requests from some of our accounts," says Kulwant Shahi, vice president of Simple Network Inc. "But since prepaid wireless has become so popular, POSA is now a requirement."

Shahi reviewed the list of POSA providers, performed due diligence and selected KwikSystems. The reasons that he cites for the selection include reliable and proven technology that is "retailer friendly." "KwikSystems' solution can be used on the retailer's own existing equipment, so there are no special terminals to lease or buy, and the reporting system lets me track the details of every sale by store location," Shahi says. He adds that since the introduction of POSA in April 2004, there has been a sales increase of 10 percent.

"By the end of this year," Shahi says, "we will have more than 15,000 locations on POSA. It is clear that point-of-sale activation is a must for anyone who wants to stay in this business."

No limitations

Shahi says that POSA allows for the introduction of new prepaid products including prescription and health care discount cards, emergency roadside assistance, residential long distance calling, prepaid MasterCard, gift cards, online music downloads and online DVD movie and video games more than 20 products in all.

"The ability to display a wide range of cards on a single display rack any place in a store without the fear of card theft has made the products highly visible for impulse sales," Shahi says. "That alone generates higher sales revenue. Not all products are appropriate for all retailers, but having such a full line makes us an even more valuable source for our accounts. More and more of them are seeing that the benefits of POSA outweigh their original preference for cash and carry."

Nils A. Shapiro contributed to this story.

Case study #2
Team and conquer
Piggyback approach pays off in reaching Canadian market

When Vancouver, Canada-based Vendtek Systems Inc. created the e-Fresh suite of software applications to service prepaid telecom products, the initial play was licensing the software. When that proved a challenge, the company created the distribution subsidiary Now Prepay. "For us, it's all about the software application and not the hardware," says Doug Buchanan, president of Now Prepay. "Our goal was to deploy our software applications in a variety of terminals throughout Canada."

Buchanan explains that his company was not interested in building a sales team to go out to every retailer and sell terminals, so his company aligned with Tier 2 independent service organizations (ISOs), working with approximately 40 in the Canadian market. "We told the ISOs that we would provide a value-added software application that co-resides with the payment application in the POSA terminal and that we would share a percentage of our margin with them," Buchanan says.

At the current time, the prepaid offerings include prepaid wireless, prepaid long distance cards and prepaid internet. In December, the company will be offering prepaid music download cards. Due to banking regulations, Buchanan says prepaid MasterCard and Visa cards are not yet available in Canada.

According to Buchanan, the benefit for the ISOs is they could offer a single POS terminal that not only processes debit and credit, but prepaid telecom and other value-added services as well. From the start, Now Prepay had its sight set on reaching the independent c-store channel in Canada where prepaid telecom products sell well.

Many of the smaller retailers were limited in their prepaid wireless offerings and only able to sell single price points. Now Prepay is able to offer a wider selection as well as long distance cards in every price denomination. "In essence, we offer retailers a limitless supply of inventory," Buchanan says. He explains that the retailers don't miss a sale, no monies are paid in advance, a stand-alone additional terminal is not required, and the staff can't pilfer. Once a terminal is installed, the churn rate goes down, and retailers experience revenue increase.

Besides c-stores, the ISOs call upon all retail locations carrying a credit card terminal. These include laundromats, gas stations, hair salons, school book stores, dance studios and even funeral homes.

Since teaming with ISOs 20 months ago, Buchanan says that Now Prepay has the most distribution points of any other competitor delivering electronically. "The benefits are that the ISOs can get into places we couldn't ourselves, and they provide customer service. It's more like a boutique approach."

Servicing chain stores, too

The company claims success as well working with the gas station chain Esso in Canada. Like most chains, they have a centralized payment system. Buchanan says the chain wanted to place more effort in the prepaid category, but integrating prepaid software into the central system would mean working with the chain's IT department, which would take two to three years. "Once you start placing prepaid applications alongside payment applications, there are rigorous certification issues with banks in Canada," Buchanan says.

Esso decided to offer prepaid products independent of the central system, and to date, Now Prepay has placed inexpensive terminals in 400 stores and plans to furnish approximately 2,200 stores within one year.

Payment through a PC

For retailers using Windows PC and an internet connection to activate phones or process payments, Now Prepay provides a software application that sits on the desktop. From it, merchants can sell products from the PC and print out a receipt from a local printer. Buchanan says the retailers love it because they're using existing hardware and an existing internet connection; there's no need for an additional phone line.

He says cellular stores are a natural fit because they activate cell phone service online. "Carriers are encouraging the cellular dealers to use a virtual solution and have provided dealers a list of software vendors, including Now Prepay. So we're being proactive and contacting these dealers as well," he says.

Buchanan is optimistic about the opportunities yet ahead in Canada. "There are three companies competing in Canada including Now Prepay. Of the three, we're No. 1 in terms of distribution points. All combined, we're barely covering 10 percent of the available market," he says.

U.S. plans?

Buchanan says Now Prepay is not yet ready to tackle Canada's southern neighbor. The company is currently working on a strategy to enter the United States that is unlike the Canadian formula. "We know it would be costly to implement a grass-roots approach and strike up supplier relationships," Buchanan says. "I'm in the process of putting a strategy in place to grow our business quickly, which we hope to do in one year, and we plan to strike up strategic partnerships to do this."

Case study #3
Newfound profits
No more cards locked away each night

More than a year ago, Giant Retail Stores, which consists of 123 retail service station/convenience stores in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, realized it was unable to properly service prepaid telecom products. Mike Polo, director of marketing for Giant Industries Inc., says that before the chain selected a POSA solution, the only telecom products offered were the live long distance phone cards along with the Verizon FreeUp recharge cards. "We had very little success selling them," Polo says.

Since the implementation of a POSA solution from Q Comm and PosaTech, sales have soared in the category. "Now that I offer prepaid products through a POSA system, it's the No. 1 SKU, doing tens of thousands of dollars for the store," he says. "The live inventory system was dependent upon a store manager ordering when we ran out or making sure all the cards were locked in the safe every night. It just wasn't conducive."

Polo had researched many POSA systems but wanted to wait until he found a system that was user-friendly at store level yet provided flexibility to add new products in the future. "With our system, I have one generic plastic thermal card that I run through the machine. Depending upon the code, it comes out as that product whether it's prepaid wireless, a phone card or prepaid MasterCard.

And speaking of the prepaid MasterCard, Polo says his stores have had tremendous success selling it. "When we first started selling these, we weren't sure they would sell, but now it's one of our most popular items in the product mix."

Polo says he promotes the prepaid MasterCard by using point-of-purchase displays inside and outside the store, and he has brochures that describe the product as well. Upon purchase, the customer receives the temporary thermal card, which is only good for making online purchases or purchases by phone. Within seven to 10 working days, the customer receives an embossed, personalized MasterCard.

Today, customers at Giant stores can select prepaid programs from TracFone, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, among others, as well as U.S. long distance and Mexico phone cards. Polo says the chain also offers the CashX card, a Visa card for use to make purchases online, as well as a $10 Giant prepaid gift card. The c-store has also added prepaid ring tones, prepaid internet and a prepaid service that offers online traffic school instruction.

"While I have sold these offerings, after selling products for more than a year," says Polo, "it's clear to me that 99 percent of sales will be the wireless long distance and, more and more, the prepaid MasterCard programs."

Polo says that either he finds new products or he is pitched new products. Once he's ready to add a new product,

Q Comm's IT department creates a program interface with the product provider. Currently, he's looking to add a roadside assistance card, among others.

His advice to providers who call upon c-store category managers includes: Bring a system that is logistically easy to execute at the store level; bring the retailer a core group of offerings that represent the vast majority of the business wireless, long distance and a Mexico card; have a simple gift card solution; and educate the retailer on the benefits of offering a prepaid MasterCard program, which he sees as a huge growth area.

According to Polo, Giant's management is extremely pleased with the results of implementing a POSA solution. "The money we're getting from this the revenue and the gross profit dollars is entirely incremental. We were selling some long distance before and some other recharge cards, but the tremendous growth relative to that has dwarfed our expectations," Polo says.

Case study #4
POSA without limits
Multitude of new wireless programs reveal the need for a robust solution

As a software provider offering electronic payment processing services, most of AirTel's prospects and clients already are using a POS terminal solution. What they're realizing, says Osvaldo Rodriguez, president and CEO of AirTel Wireless, are the limitations with their current POS solution. "Customers are limited to the products that are sold through the credit card terminal due to its memory capabilities," Rodriguez says. "With the growth of the prepaid industry, and the amount of products coming out, it's hard for the other POSA terminal companies to keep up with the products and add them to the system.

"What we're hearing," he says, "is that retailers are forced to decide which products are not selling for them. They have to take them off the terminal and replace them with a product that might sell. With us, even if you only sell one product per month, at least you're selling it and not eliminating it."

Differentiator

AirTel's solution replaces a credit card terminal with Windows-based POS software running on a PC. An AirTel customer chooses either a web-based or a software-based application. Rodriguez explains that the web-based solution requires high-speed internet, so retailers best suited to that solution include wireless stores, check cashers or travel agencies. C-stores favor the software application that loads on a PC and requires a phone line (same as with a terminal).

"Ninety percent of the stores we service are wireless stores," Rodriguez says. He says that represents more than 2,500 store fronts, from independently owned single stores to franchises comprised of 100 to 200 stores.

"These stores know they need to expand their current solutions because there are so many new wireless products coming out, including programs from mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs)," he says. It's thanks to these new products, Rodriguez says, that retailers are learning about the limitations in their current terminal systems. "Customers are coming into the stores looking for product and, in most cases, these products are not offered in the retailer's POS system."

AirTel can service more than 100 products and currently offers prepaid wireless, long distance, prepaid MasterCard, ring tones and home dialtone. The company is looking at other new services including prepaid roadside assistance, prepaid prescriptions and prepaid legal services, among others.

Solution for RadioShack

Recently, AirTel was able to help numerous independently owned and operated RadioShack stores located in central Massachusetts to deliver additional prepaid wireless programs to their customers that the corporate RadioShack office was not able to provide.

"The owner of these RadioShack locations wanted to add other prepaid products," Rodriguez says. He explains that the client selected the software-based solution that offers many features including phone activation and the bill payment module. According to Rodriguez, the owner is so pleased with AirTel's solution, he's recommending to the RadioShack corporate office to consider offering it nationwide in its stores.

Case study # 5
Prepaid preferred
Product expansion brings in new customers and more sales

Six months ago, c-store Fairway One Stop #5 located in Winston/Salem, N.C., was only able to sell three prepaid wireless cards. Shortly after, the store converted to a POSA system provided by Spectrum Wireless, the store's wholesaler. Nine prepaid wireless cards are now available including Omni, TracFone, Page Plus, Cingular and Liberty, among others.

Adding POSA has increased business, says Ronald Couthen, manager of the store. "It has brought us new customers to the store because of the new products that are available," Couthen says. He says that placing signage inside and outside the store has also helped bring in new business.

Couthen says the store has experienced a significant increase in the sale of prepaid telecom products since the introduction of a POSA solution. Part of the reason is because the products are attracting different customers. With new customer traffic coming in the store, Couthen says, he's also selling more prepaid vs. postpaid plans. In fact, he says three out of five customers select prepaid. "Customers like managing their minutes," he says. "The bills fluctuate too much, and the customers aren't happy when they receive high bills at the end of the month."

He says his average recharge load is $15 to $20, and the customers like recharging their existing cards to add more phone time because they can keep the same PIN. Couthen is aware of other prepaid products, such as the prepaid MasterCard, but so far, he's not yet added nontelecom products.

Other benefits have resulted, Couthen says. "It takes approximately 15 minutes to complete a prepaid phone sale," he says. "While they're waiting, they're looking at other products such as accessories." These include earpieces, leather cases, chargers and batteries. He says that leads them closer to the grocery area of the store where they may also purchase more while they're in the store.

To keep up with the latest prepaid wireless offerings, Couthen does a lot of reading, and he relies on Spectrum, with whom he stays in contact regularly to discuss industry trends and customer needs.

Intelecard News Online | Feature Stories

Posted by Craig at 02:32 PM

November 02, 2004

Prepaid Product Rollcall

In the prepaid arena, there are several contenders for most popular

by: Frank Squilla

As a distributor of many prepaid products, I am always looking for that next big item that will create consumer demand and increase revenues and profits for my customers. Finding this product has been easier said than done.

Lately, however, the latest hot development is stored value products. MasterCard, Visa and American Express, as well as debit cards and the ever-popular gift cards, are the spike that many retailers are looking for. But many will be disappointed by the percentages earned on the sales. We will talk about this later.

Prepaid internet and digital content

The search for the next big thing has always been the quest in the prepaid industry. In the late stages of 2001, prepaid dialtone was considered the savior. Then, if you recall in early 2002, prepaid internet became the darling product. AT&T, Sprint and Slingshot, may it rest in peace, started spending aggressively to market this exciting new segment of the prepaid industry.

Unfortunately, this too has not lived up to expectations. I actually believe that prepaid internet will be a product to reckon with in the future as the internet becomes more and more of the way we live our lives. Stay tuned on that one.

Lately, music downloads, ring tones and games are hot. In the music arena, iTunes has approximately 70 percent of the music download market. Currently, Target is the only retailer where one can purchase prepaid iTunes cards. The buzz is that they may soon expand the offering to other retailers, but nothing as of yet.

Napster, Rhapsody and MusicMatch have also entered the arena, but sales have been less than stellar despite a lot of early push on the product. In my discussions with industry insiders, music could be one of those products that really takes off, but there is still ample free music online. Although extremely popular with the youth, music downloads have failed to catch on in the prepaid arena as of yet.

The same can be said with ring tones. Moviso and Mobile Craze are two of the providers in this arena. This, too, has not lived up to its early billing, although given the popularity of prepaid wireless, you would think these types of support products would eventually catch on.

One of the issues regarding the acceptance of these products is making sure that the ring tones can be downloaded to all types of phones. Currently, this is not the case. In addition, many of the carriers are providing options for their customers to download tones at the carriers' websites. As more consumers upgrade their phones and become increasingly familiar with these new offerings, expect the popularity of these types of products to expand.

Prepaid online games are also set to gain attention as Game Spy, Xbox Live, Microsoft Games, Funcom and many others go prepaid. I understand that there are hundreds of thousands of youth that play games over the internet on a regular basis, and the popularity of game playing is growing every day. But as Mom and Dad get tired of funding this habit, you'll find Junior buying a prepaid gaming card at the corner store.

There are many others looking to take over the very limited space that retailers have to promote prepaid. You will see prepaid diet products such as Atkins, prepaid satellite radio, prepaid flowers, prepaid roadside assistance, and the list goes on. The retailer has a choice to make. He has limited space to market prepaid, so let's make sure we do not waste the space we have while continuing to grow our sales.

MVNO action

An MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator, buys airtime in bulk from carriers such as Sprint, Verizon or AT&T and then repackages the minutes and sells this program under its own private-label brand.

Virgin Mobile, utilizing Sprint's network, and Boost Mobile, utilizing Nextel's network, are two of the newest MVNOs that have been introduced to the United States. Both of these companies are doing well, and their success has paved the way for entrepreneurs to get involved.

MVNOs are becoming popular because retailers can offer these types of programs and earn significantly more profit dollars per sale. Margin dollars in wireless have declined; Alltel, Boost, T-Mobile, Verizon and i Wireless have significantly reduced their margins to distributors. Many feel this trend will continue.

Typically, retailers can earn 5 percent to 8 percent more selling a product offered on the Verizon network than they can earn selling Verizon's prepaid program. That's why companies such as Omni, Call Plus, Page Plus, EZ Link Plus, STi Mobile, Diamond Mobile, Locus and many others are now operating in this space. Many of these carriers are watching their businesses grow at a significant rate.

Prepaid wireless

You still have to be careful, though, in the prepaid wireless segment. As in the early stages of prepaid phone card growth, there will be many companies that get started with good intentions and fail. Unfortunately, there also are those who enter the business without the best of intentions. So do your homework, work with reliable distributors and make sure they have a track record of servicing your specific industry.

Stored value

Let's look at the stored value side of the business. We have been selling prepaid MasterCard programs for a few years, and it has shown steady growth from month to month. Next Estate Communications is the clear leader in this space with its Truth, i-Gen and many other brands. This year, it introduced Green Dot, which is the universal reload product for all of its brands. The Green Dot network will also be available for other product reloads. Next Estate's success has opened the door for many others to join the mix.

To take advantage of the money transfer industry, Citibank is now on a major plan to market credit and debit products to the Hispanic consumer. Companies like Secured Cash Network have launched Pronto Banco, which is targeted to the Hispanic market for debit card services, payroll services, money transfer and bill payment. What makes this product unique is that it has partnered with Estafeta, which is the UPS of Mexico. The company has figured out a way to get these financial service products delivered to any area of Mexico.

Add gift cards to the mix, which I believe are even more popular, and you can see that stored value is here to stay.

Gift cards

Walk into almost any retail location and you can purchase a Blockbuster, Home Depot, Lowe's, Barnes & Noble or Sears gift card. Retailers are selling gift cards with other retailers' names on them. Right now, you can find these types of cards in many grocery locations around the country, and retailers now will be able to participate. Sales of gift cards are already in the billions of dollars.

This product offering does have a catch the retailers will have to approve where their cards are sold. Nevertheless, gift cards alone will add millions to the retail marketplace. If you think wireless margins are low, get ready for more shock. Retailers can expect margins in the area of 5 percent on these products, and you will have to take up valuable space merchandising gift cards as they must be activated at the point of sale. Yes, it is a low margin, but it can be extremely high volume.

The author is director of sales for GTS Prepaid Inc. He can be reached at 856.797.3434.

story link

Posted by Craig at 02:15 PM

October 21, 2004

Gift Card Trends

Gift givers now prefer gift cards to cash, study finds Original Story from Wise Marketer

More than half of American consumers prefer electronic gift or spending cards when giving gifts rather than giving cash or paper gift certificates, according to the fourth annual Consumer Insights Survey commissioned by spending card solutions firm ValueLink.

Of those consumers surveyed, 52% said they would prefer to give a gift card, while 38% prefer to give cash and 11% prefer to give gift certificates (11%). According to ValueLink, the survey of 1,006 US adults reveals a steady growth in gift card usage across several measurable categories, and American consumers are purchasing more gift cards at higher values than at any time since the annual survey began tracking the figures in 2001. This article is copyright 2004 TheWiseMarketer.com.

Some 64% said they purchased and/or received a gift card in the previous 12 months, compared to only 36% in the original 2001 survey. Consumers had purchased an average of just under seven gift cards in the previous 12 months, with an average value of US$59 per card (up from 4.1 cards at US$44 per card in 2001).

Most spend more
Of those who had received a gift card in the previous 12 months, 27% said they spent the initial value of their card within one week of receiving it, and another 31% spent the value within one month. More than half (55%) of those surveyed said they spent more than the value of the card when they used it.

"Tracking these statistics over a four year period has provided us with a definitive picture of the American consumer's acceptance, purchase and use of electronic gift cards," explained Kevin Harte, senior vice president and general manager for ValueLink.

Measurement 2004 2003 2002 2001
Consumer awareness of gift cards 94% 92% 79% 76%
Purchased or received a gift card 64% 59% 37% 36%
Avg. no. of gift cards purchased 6.9 5.6 4.6 4.1
Avg. value of gift cards purchased US$59 US$41 US$50 US$44
Avg. gift card spending in previous year US$247 US$197 n/a n/a
Spend more than initial value of gift card 55% 56% 61% 58%
Overall satisfaction with gift cards (10 = highest) 9 9 9 7

Four year tracking of year-round gift card purchases & use
Source: ValueLink Consumer Insights Survey 2004

As demonstrated by a preference for gift cards rather than cash or paper certificates, electronic gift cards have evolved to become a desired product by purchasers and receivers alike, according to ValueLink.

Gift options
Looking at the type of gifts for which gift cards are used, 66% of gift card purchasers said that they give them as a primary gift, while 28% said they them with another gift.

"The Christmas holiday is a crucial time of the year for gift cards in the retail world, as 56% of respondents cited the occasion for a gift card purchase," said Karen Larsen, ValueLink's vice president of product marketing and evolution. "An even stronger figure, and one that points toward the year-round appeal of gift cards, is that 77% had purchased a gift card to give as a birthday gift."

The benefits
Survey respondents also highlighted the benefits of purchasing and receiving gift cards:

  • 52% said gift cards allow receivers to get what they want;
     
  • 36% said gift cards are convenient to purchase;
     
  • 17% said they don't have to think about the specific gift they are giving;
     
  • 45% said receiving a gifts card benefits their own shopping experience because they can get the gift they want and/or wait for a sale to "get more gift";
     
  • 26% said gift cards are convenient and easy to use.

Key findings
Other key research findings included:

  • 83% purchased gift cards in person at a store location. Another 9% made gift card purchases using the internet via merchant web sites;
     
  • Of those who have purchased gift cards in the past, 50% said they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to purchase a gift card via a retailer or restaurant web site in the coming year;
     
  • 26% said they had purchased gift cards at a store that offers gift cards from multiple retailers or merchants;
     
  • Compared to the average US$247 spent on gift cards in the previous year, consumers between the ages of 45 and 54 spent an average of US$281 on gift cards during the year. Those aged 65 or older spent an average of US$200 on gift cards during the year;
     
  • 80% of all purchased cards had a US$20 - US$50 value;
     
  • Most consumers carry an average of 4.2 plastic cards (gift, credit, reward, and so on) in their wallet or purse at all times. However, 14% carry 6-9 plastic cards at all times, and 10% carry 10 or more cards at all times.

Data for ValueLink's Consumer Insights Survey 2004 was collected in August 2004 by TNS Financial Services Group, using its Express Telephone Omnibus (a weekly random survey of adult US consumers).


More Info: 

http://www.valuelink.info

Source: ValueLink

Posted by Craig at 04:08 PM

August 11, 2004

Prepaid and International

Nice in-depth article on four prepaid companies telling how they found success internationally in prepaid markets.
Intelecard News Online | Feature Stories

Posted by Craig at 04:59 PM

July 16, 2004

Prepaid & Safeway

With a win-win concept, Safeway has partnered with best-in-category specialty retailers to provide an innovative gift card program. Read how the grocery giant is enabling retailers - such as Starbucks - to expand their presence and sales.

Like any successful implementation, it begins with a concept. The concept to market prepaid gift cards from specialty retailers at Safeway grocery stores came about in 2001 when Donald Kingsborough, founder of Safeways Marketing Services group, recognized that payment options and prepayments were an emerging product category.
Founded in the summer of 2001, Safeway Marketing Services mission is to innovate and generate revenue from nontraditional sources. "Were an incubator of new ideas and try a lot of things," explains Walter Paulsen, vice president of Safeways Marketing Services group and the individual responsible for all of Safeways prepaid gift card and telecom products. "Carrying prepaid gift cards came out of that initiative to think differently, drive revenue from nontraditional sources and, essentially, surprise and delight our customers."

It didnt take long for the company to start surprising and delighting. By October 2001, Safeway was selling prepaid gift cards from six specialty retailers in all of its stores. It was a successful launch, but not without some bumps along the way.

Innovate or fade away

Safeway has been in business for 75 years and has stores in 23 states. The company has a reputation for providing outstanding quality at a competitive price and is known for service, selection and cleanliness. Despite this reputation, Safeway has come under increased pressure not only from direct competitors but from the likes of Wal-Mart, Costco, Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market. "Weve got more competitors coming at us from all angles than we did years ago," Paulsen says. "If all we do is compete head-to-head with traditional grocers, then we risk being the last dinosaur in the cave. We dont want to be the last dinosaur and are working aggressively to reinvent how grocery is done in a more competitive way."

Service, selection and convenience are where Paulsen feels Safeway differentiates itself from discounters such as Wal-Mart and why Safeway is the ideal outlet for prepaid gift cards. "People who shop at a full-service grocery store like Safeway care more about convenience, selection and service than a person who shops wholly at Wal-Mart," Paulsen explains. "We felt that retailers who compete with Wal-Mart had a strategic interest in sharing their traffic and their customer base. Consequently, our customers are more likely to shop at Nordstrom; Old Navy; Bed, Bath & Beyond; or another best-of-category retailer."

Working from that hypothesis, Safeway began courting specialty retailers such as Starbucks, Sears, Nordstrom and Blockbuster, among others.

Behind the scenes

The launch of the program was timed to coincide with the 2001 holiday gift-giving season. Implementing the program required significant point-of-sale modifications. "We did a lot of IT work to enable us to offer secure activation and payment," Paulsen says.

Before rolling out the program, Safeway Marketing Services had to fight for space in its checkout aisles space that some of its candy retailers werent excited about giving up. It also went through a number of iterations on the rack design and learned through trial and error the best locations at checkout to place those racks. Later, additional racks were added in other parts of the store, boosting sales considerably.

The decision to launch the program at all Safeway locations without any test trials may sound like a gamble at first blush, but for Paulsen and company, it was the only way to go. "There are certain things you want to test in small areas, roll out and make bigger," Paulsen says. For Safeway, this way was not an option.

"Its much easier for partners to pull out if theyve just made a tiny commitment," he says. "Like the Vikings used to burn the ships behind them, we decided to make a bold move because we really believed in the concept."

Selectivity pays

Most of the deals Safeway signs with its retail partners are multiyear exclusive for distribution within the grocery category. Safeway has been extremely selective in choosing its retail partners, and Paulsen points out that there are only so many cards that Safeway will carry. "There is a point of diminishing returns where adding more cards in the same category doesnt really increase sales," Paulsen says. "With too many choices, customers get lost and dont find what they really want. Our goal is not to expand the mix but refine it. We want to get the strongest partners that we can, and we want to stand behind them and sell a very high volume of their cards."

Partners such as Sears are indeed pleased. "Safeway provides another convenient channel for our customers to purchase a Sears gift card and an additional opportunity to drive sales," notes Bill Kiss, vice president of Sears Promotions LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears.

The program has been such a success that retailers are constantly knocking at Safeways doors. "We turn down several proposals a week," says Paulsen. "At the end of the day, what really work best are strong multibillion-dollar retail consumer brands that are giftable." According to Paulsen, premium brands outsell discount brands. "Premium brands tend to have a mid to upscale consumer whos a good match with Safeways customer base as well as the people who are buying gift cards."

Paulsen explains that the company only has so much space, and its goal is to maximize the value of each and every peg. Not surprisingly, the pegs at the front of the store at the checkout aisle are where Safeway focuses on best-selling brands. "The best-selling brands get the best space, and because they get the best space, they get the highest sales," he says. "And it gets harder to break into that circle because weve had strong success in getting the people we want into the program."

Lessons learned

Although the program wasnt a rousing success from the get-go, Safeway and its retail partners were satisfied with its progress after the first holiday season. But there were lessons learned that have been instrumental in making the program even stronger.

Paulsen is hesitant to offer specifics regarding some of the lessons Safeway learned that first year. "We dont want to give competitors the playbook for the things that can go wrong," he says. "We want them to learn the hard way." That said, Paulsen rattles off a litany of problem areas: "There are IT things that can go wrong. There are marketing things that can go wrong, and if the program doesnt get strong support down to the store level, results can be mixed."

Adds Paulsen, "If you put out a rack with six pegs on it with a few cards, that by no means guarantees success. Customers might not find them, or store employees might not put the cards on the racks, or customers might not understand how this works."

During the first year of the program, Safeway learned which marketing and public relations campaigns were most effective. "A lot of this wasnt necessarily intuitive," reveals Paulsen. Employee incentives and contests inspired employees to be proactive in exposing customers to the cards. Other issues that had to be learned through experience were closing contracts with major retailers and dealing with brand considerations. "How do these prestigious brands get over the hurdle of having their brands represented in grocery?" asks Paulsen. "Most of them have never had their brands anywhere except in their own retail locations."

This was a new concept for Safeways retail partners, and many were pleased from the start. "Wed been pleased throughout, but the benefits of the relationship proved to be very valuable on Christmas 2003, when Sears stores were closed for the holiday," Kiss says. "Our customers were pleased to have a convenient way to purchase last-minute Sears gift cards for holiday giving."

Another lesson learned was that expanding the program was a necessity. "We had good success but realized we had to offer customers more choices," Paulsen adds. "With six cards, you dont offer enough choice so that anybody can find something theyre looking for." In 2002, Safeway added 17 new card partners, while in 2003, Safeway focused on strengthening the mix of best-of-category retailers, adding Home Depot and Toys "R" Us, among others.

Marketing matters

Marketing has also been instrumental to the programs success. Marketing efforts are two-pronged, targeting employees and customers. The company conducts extensive in-store training and also uses in-store videos that highlight the cards it offers. Several times a year it conducts contests where the store, the division or the district that has the highest sales is rewarded. "We use every tool at our disposal to achieve enthusiasm and execution down to the store level," Paulsen says.

Gift cards are also included in various Safeway promotions, promoted in circular advertising and in in-store promotions around key holidays where employees are encouraged to be active sales agents for the program. "Our goal is to make sure that every customer who comes into Safeway knows about the gift card program, is aware of the great brands we offer and remembers it the next time they have a gift-giving opportunity," says Paulsen.

"Ultimately, its a great product innovation and a great convenience," he adds. "Everybody is busy, nobody wants to make an extra trip to the mall just to get a gift card, so why not just do it on your trip to the grocery store? In some ways its pretty innovative, but in others its a simple proposition. Were just making it more convenient for our customers and these great retail partners to find each other."

Since the launch of the program in the fall of 2001, Paulsen reports the prepaid gift card program has achieved high double-digit growth rates and shows no signs of abating. Nor do Paulsen and his group plan to rest on their laurels. "We have a lot of competitors, and our goal is to keep innovating so that by the time they get to where we are now, well be somewhere far down the road." ICN

If you cant beat them, partner with them
If a program works, theres bound to be those who try and emulate it. Understanding this, Safeway Marketing Services has expanded its prepaid gift card program to its grocery alliance partners. "If an idea works in Safeway, people are going to try and copy it, particularly in grocery," says Walter Paulsen, vice president of Safeway Marketing Services. "We thought we could either let other companies and entrepreneurs copy our program, or we could expand the program and offer it to other grocers." Safeway chose the latter.

Already, Safeway has signed deals with Pathmark, Ahold and other grocery chains and, between now and the end of 2004, will be rolling out similar programs at Lowes, Price Chopper and others. "We estimate 3,000 to 4,000 locations this year," says Paulsen, who maintains this provides a double benefit for Safeways retail and grocery partners. "Retail partners just sign one contract with us, and they get a national distribution footprint. Our grocery partners get a full plug-and-play program and dont have to go through all the IT, merchandising, schematics and other headaches weve had to go through." Safeway handles the contracts, the merchandising, the marketing, the PR, even the racks. "We provide an absolute turnkey system with the best retail brands in the country," Paulsen says. "Its a win-win for both sides."


Prepaid winners and losers
Outside of gift cards from specialty retailers, Paulsen reports that other types of prepaid products have not had as much commercial success at Safeway. "Music downloads, ring tones, video games for cell phones theres a whole host of content out there that is being discussed as a huge opportunity," Paulsen says. "My perspective on this: Dont believe everything you read."

He adds, "These cards dont typically do a lot of volume. We sell all these things or have tested most of them, so we have a perspective on what works. Some of the more creative ideas seem to be driven by vendors wanting to get shelf space as opposed to consumer demand."

In addition to the specialty gift cards, Paulsen identifies prepaid telecom products as great opportunities, as well as cards for emergency roadside service.



Intelecard News Online | Feature Stories

Posted by Craig at 02:21 PM

June 14, 2004

Prepaid in C-Stores

7-Eleven to distribute prepaid Musicmatch cards

7-Eleven to distribute Musicmatch cards
Musicmatch Inc., a provider of personalized music software and services, reports the immediate availability of Musicmatch Music Download Cards at thousands of participating 7-Eleven Inc. c-stores nationwide. The distribution is being enabled by a partnership with Vesta Corporation.

The Musicmatch cards are priced at $9.90 for 10 songs. Once purchased, the cards can be easily redeemed through the Musicmatch Downloads service, which currently offers more than 550,000 tracks as well as other features.

"Musicmatch and Vesta have provided us with an easy and effective way to bring digital music to the masses in a prepaid format," says Kevin Elliott, vp of merchandising for 7-Eleven Inc., "which is especially attractive to a new generation of young consumers looking to buy music without the need for credit cards."


Intelecard News Online |ICN Wire

Posted by Craig at 03:42 PM

Prepaid

Get ready for the prepaid evolution article by Ann All.

Get ready for the prepaid evolution

by Ann All 02 June 2004

Americans are using prepaid services more than ever before. And the biggest growth is still to take place as retailers introduce new card-based products and services that open the market to the unbanked population.

The unbanked population is estimated to be approximately 13 percent of American households. Traditionally this group pays in person, in cash.

Why are there so many individuals without bank accounts? The Federal Reserve Boards Survey of Consumer Finances found that most individuals without bank accounts say they either do not write enough checks to make it worthwhile, they do not have enough money or do not like dealing with banks.

With more than five percent of Caucasians and one third of other ethnic citizens effectively bankless, the unbanked population represents a significant opportunity for prepaid service providers, said Imke Louis Mensah, ATLANTIC-ACM vice president and analyst covering the prepaid industry.

But there can be obstacles to relying on prepaid services. One of the biggest hurdles is when a prepaid customer runs out of credit after business hours or in a remote location. One solution thats gaining favor is the use of ATMs and kiosks to reload the account with more credit.


Kiosks have an edge

Hamed Shahbazi, chairman and chief executive of Info Touch Technologies, which offers prepaid services at 250 standalone ZapLink kiosks it owns and/or operates in convenience stores and wireless stores, believes that offering cash acceptance gives kiosks an edge over ATMs.

In addition to prepaid wireless and long distance, ZapLink kiosks offer prepaid WiFi, money orders, money transfer, bill payment and other prepaid mobile content such as ring tones and games.

Info Touch is adding prepaid services to another 100 kiosks it owns and operates on U.S. military bases and expects to add another 100 kiosks to new locations in the next four to six weeks. The company just announced an agreement to deploy 34 ZapLink kiosks at Mac's Convenience Stores in Canada.

It's difficult to add new services to ATMs, Shahbazi said, as most are built upon an OS/2 or proprietary embedded operating system. In contrast, kiosks are typically based upon more flexible platforms such as Microsoft Windows or Linux.

Transaction times are another factor, said Steve Hensley, executive vice president of Worldwide Sales for software developer KAL, which is working with both ATM and kiosk deployers to offer prepaid services including wireless top-ups. "People are generally more tolerant of variable length transactions on a kiosk," he said.

For that reason, Hensley said he expects to see more environments in which both ATMs and kiosks are available. "I think you'll see more dual self-service offerings in which kiosks may be used for e-shopping, ticket purchases and lengthier transactions and ATMs are used for quicker, more intuitive transactions."

The unbanked population represents a significant opportunity for prepaid service providers..

-- Imke Louis Mensah
Vice President
ATLANTIC-ACM

Enter the ATM

As more financial institutions begin to introduce prepaid cards, it makes sense to begin offering prepaid services at ATMs, said Michael Struttmann, director of National Sales for EWI Prepaid Services, KAL's partner on a pilot with a credit union in which prepaid wireless top-ups will be offered at several ATMs on college campuses.

Struttmann said FIs could offer prepaid services on their Web sites, as well as at ATMs and possibly in branches. "There are some excellent cross-selling opportunities there," he said.

ATMs, particularly those owned by FIs, enjoy advantages, Struttmann said. "The ATM industry has done a great job of going in and locking in good locations and good contracts. We greatly covet that real estate."

Some 80 percent of EWI's current prepaid business is conducted via POS terminals, Struttmann said, but he expects an uptick in ATM and kiosk transactions in the next 24 months.

James Anderson, vice president of Payment Services for Boston Communications Group (bcgi), agrees that FI backing will be necessary to advance the concept of prepaid services such as top-ups at ATMs. "I'm a big believer that you need a strong brand, such as a bank brand, somewhere in the equation," he said.

Working with both E*Trade Access and with NCR's iATMglobal subsidiary, bcgi currently offers Wireless Wallet top-ups on several hundred ATMs in retail locations. Late last year bcgi moved its focus from third-party ATMs to those owned by banks, Anderson said, and began working with ACI Worldwide to develop an interface to its BASE24 transaction processing software, which is used by many FIs.

A pilot to offer Wireless Wallet top-ups at ATMs owned by an unnamed FI will begin this summer, Anderson said.

Among the ATM's biggest strengths as a delivery channel for prepaid services, Anderson said, are consumers' comfort levels with using the machines and ATM owners' strong desire to leverage a fixed-cost asset by introducing new services.

The company recently announced an agreement with enTrac Technologies to interface its cash accepting device recharge (CAD) interface with enTrac's ExpressPay system, with an eye toward adding Wireless Wallet top-ups to kiosks. A handful of kiosks in office supply stores are currently testing the service, Anderson said.

Coinstar partnered with bcgi to add Wireless Wallet to its coin-counting kiosks, which are typically found in large grocery stores. The service has been introduced on some 600 Coinstar kiosks and will be rolled out across Coinstar's network of 10,000 kiosks in the next 36 months, said Steve Verleye, Coinstar's general manager of Electronic Payment Solutions.

In addition to prepaid wireless top-ups and prepaid long distance, Coinstar is testing bill payment, prepaid debit cards, other wireless content such as ring tones and electronic services for holders of payroll cards at its kiosks. While the fate of the other services is still being decided, Coinstar intends to add prepaid wireless and prepaid debit cards to all of its machines.

"It makes sense to add this functionality to existing kiosks," Anderson said, "but I'm not sure there's a strong business case in deploying dedicated devices. In a typical retail environment, I think it makes more sense to look at integration with existing POS devices or ATMs. Now, you can offer a really rich bundle of services at a kiosk, which could change the equation."

POS power

In addition to its kiosks, Coinstar is making a POS play with its recent purchase of CellCards of Illinois, a distributor of prepaid products with a major presence in check-out lanes at drugstore chains like CVS, Eckerds and Walgreens.

Mike Herold, CellCards' president, said that POS has been the predominant distribution point for prepaid services to date because of its low start-up costs and retailers' comfort levels with the terminals. However, he believes that use of other channels will grow.

"It's not an either/or deal in my opinion," he said. "Retailers may be comfortable keeping the quicker transactions at their counters because they're paying those cashiers anyway. But they'll want to keep the more complicated services like bill payment off their desks."

POS has "the power of incumbency," agreed ATM veteran Sam Jonas, who recently signed on as vice president of Business Development for CellCards. As demand for prepaid services grows, however, fewer prepaid customers will want to "wait in line behind the guy buying a couple six-packs of soda," Jonas said. "They'll go to a self-service device instead."

The increased issuance of prepaid and stored value cards will boost adoption levels, Jonas said. "You've got a new group of people with a growing degree of trust in the electronic delivery of financial services."

At least one major ATM operator, Kahuna Business Group, is also adding POS distribution of prepaid services to its product line-up, via a partnership with Prepaid International Network (PIN) of Green Bay, Wisc.

Among the services offered will be guaranteed check cashing in all 50 states, which is accomplished by loading payroll and government checks onto a prepaid debit card, said Ernie Beckman, director of sales for Kahuna, which has some 5,000 ATMs under contract.

Also offered are a number of other prepaid services, including wireless and long distance and Internet access, as well as traditional credit card processing -- all through a single Verifone 3750 terminal.

"A lot of these locations have two to four terminals offering the different products on their counters. They want to free up valuable counter space, and they don't want to have to train their employees on all of the different terminals," Beckman said.

Tom Mortimer, Kahuna's executive vice president, said Kahuna wants to offer its distributors (which it calls affiliates) another tool to improve relationships with retailers. "If they don't have a value add like this, another guy is just going to come along and offer the merchant more interchange."

He added, "This isn't a quick sale where you're going to go out and never come back. You can offer some of the prepaid services to the merchant and prove they work, then come in later and offer more services. It's a great way of continuing that relationship."

Beta tests were recently completed with the new terminals, and results are promising, Mortimer said, with prepaid wireless top-ups performing especially well. For now, Mortimer believes it makes more sense to offer these types of services behind the retail counter rather than at an ATM or Kiosk.

"Retailers can use card displays and other advertising media to direct customers to the counter, and let's face it, when people are in doubt, they're going to ask a clerk for help," he said.

While he thinks the ATMs and kiosks may grow in popularity as a distribution point for prepaid services he said the real winners will be companies like his which offer multiple distribution strategies.

"Ultimately, the consumer will determine what's convenient for them," said bcgi's Anderson. "I think you'll have different products and services available through different channels."

Posted by Craig at 03:31 PM

June 11, 2004

Prepaid

Get ready for the prepaid evolution

by Ann All 02 June 2004

Americans are using prepaid services more than ever before. And the biggest growth is still to take place as retailers introduce new card-based products and services that open the market to the unbanked population.

The unbanked population is estimated to be approximately 13 percent of American households. Traditionally this group pays in person, in cash.

Why are there so many individuals without bank accounts? The Federal Reserve Boards Survey of Consumer Finances found that most individuals without bank accounts say they either do not write enough checks to make it worthwhile, they do not have enough money or do not like dealing with banks.

With more than five percent of Caucasians and one third of other ethnic citizens effectively bankless, the unbanked population represents a significant opportunity for prepaid service providers, said Imke Louis Mensah, ATLANTIC-ACM vice president and analyst covering the prepaid industry.

But there can be obstacles to relying on prepaid services. One of the biggest hurdles is when a prepaid customer runs out of credit after business hours or in a remote location. One solution thats gaining favor is the use of ATMs and kiosks to reload the account with more credit.


Kiosks have an edge

Hamed Shahbazi, chairman and chief executive of Info Touch Technologies, which offers prepaid services at 250 standalone ZapLink kiosks it owns and/or operates in convenience stores and wireless stores, believes that offering cash acceptance gives kiosks an edge over ATMs.

In addition to prepaid wireless and long distance, ZapLink kiosks offer prepaid WiFi, money orders, money transfer, bill payment and other prepaid mobile content such as ring tones and games.

Info Touch is adding prepaid services to another 100 kiosks it owns and operates on U.S. military bases and expects to add another 100 kiosks to new locations in the next four to six weeks. The company just announced an agreement to deploy 34 ZapLink kiosks at Mac's Convenience Stores in Canada.

It's difficult to add new services to ATMs, Shahbazi said, as most are built upon an OS/2 or proprietary embedded operating system. In contrast, kiosks are typically based upon more flexible platforms such as Microsoft Windows or Linux.

Transaction times are another factor, said Steve Hensley, executive vice president of Worldwide Sales for software developer KAL, which is working with both ATM and kiosk deployers to offer prepaid services including wireless top-ups. "People are generally more tolerant of variable length transactions on a kiosk," he said.

For that reason, Hensley said he expects to see more environments in which both ATMs and kiosks are available. "I think you'll see more dual self-service offerings in which kiosks may be used for e-shopping, ticket purchases and lengthier transactions and ATMs are used for quicker, more intuitive transactions."

The unbanked population represents a significant opportunity for prepaid service providers..

-- Imke Louis Mensah
Vice President
ATLANTIC-ACM

Enter the ATM

As more financial institutions begin to introduce prepaid cards, it makes sense to begin offering prepaid services at ATMs, said Michael Struttmann, director of National Sales for EWI Prepaid Services, KAL's partner on a pilot with a credit union in which prepaid wireless top-ups will be offered at several ATMs on college campuses.

Struttmann said FIs could offer prepaid services on their Web sites, as well as at ATMs and possibly in branches. "There are some excellent cross-selling opportunities there," he said.

ATMs, particularly those owned by FIs, enjoy advantages, Struttmann said. "The ATM industry has done a great job of going in and locking in good locations and good contracts. We greatly covet that real estate."

Some 80 percent of EWI's current prepaid business is conducted via POS terminals, Struttmann said, but he expects an uptick in ATM and kiosk transactions in the next 24 months.

James Anderson, vice president of Payment Services for Boston Communications Group (bcgi), agrees that FI backing will be necessary to advance the concept of prepaid services such as top-ups at ATMs. "I'm a big believer that you need a strong brand, such as a bank brand, somewhere in the equation," he said.

Working with both E*Trade Access and with NCR's iATMglobal subsidiary, bcgi currently offers Wireless Wallet top-ups on several hundred ATMs in retail locations. Late last year bcgi moved its focus from third-party ATMs to those owned by banks, Anderson said, and began working with ACI Worldwide to develop an interface to its BASE24 transaction processing software, which is used by many FIs.

A pilot to offer Wireless Wallet top-ups at ATMs owned by an unnamed FI will begin this summer, Anderson said.

Among the ATM's biggest strengths as a delivery channel for prepaid services, Anderson said, are consumers' comfort levels with using the machines and ATM owners' strong desire to leverage a fixed-cost asset by introducing new services.

The company recently announced an agreement with enTrac Technologies to interface its cash accepting device recharge (CAD) interface with enTrac's ExpressPay system, with an eye toward adding Wireless Wallet top-ups to kiosks. A handful of kiosks in office supply stores are currently testing the service, Anderson said.

Coinstar partnered with bcgi to add Wireless Wallet to its coin-counting kiosks, which are typically found in large grocery stores. The service has been introduced on some 600 Coinstar kiosks and will be rolled out across Coinstar's network of 10,000 kiosks in the next 36 months, said Steve Verleye, Coinstar's general manager of Electronic Payment Solutions.

In addition to prepaid wireless top-ups and prepaid long distance, Coinstar is testing bill payment, prepaid debit cards, other wireless content such as ring tones and electronic services for holders of payroll cards at its kiosks. While the fate of the other services is still being decided, Coinstar intends to add prepaid wireless and prepaid debit cards to all of its machines.

"It makes sense to add this functionality to existing kiosks," Anderson said, "but I'm not sure there's a strong business case in deploying dedicated devices. In a typical retail environment, I think it makes more sense to look at integration with existing POS devices or ATMs. Now, you can offer a really rich bundle of services at a kiosk, which could change the equation."

POS power

In addition to its kiosks, Coinstar is making a POS play with its recent purchase of CellCards of Illinois, a distributor of prepaid products with a major presence in check-out lanes at drugstore chains like CVS, Eckerds and Walgreens.

Mike Herold, CellCards' president, said that POS has been the predominant distribution point for prepaid services to date because of its low start-up costs and retailers' comfort levels with the terminals. However, he believes that use of other channels will grow.

"It's not an either/or deal in my opinion," he said. "Retailers may be comfortable keeping the quicker transactions at their counters because they're paying those cashiers anyway. But they'll want to keep the more complicated services like bill payment off their desks."

POS has "the power of incumbency," agreed ATM veteran Sam Jonas, who recently signed on as vice president of Business Development for CellCards. As demand for prepaid services grows, however, fewer prepaid customers will want to "wait in line behind the guy buying a couple six-packs of soda," Jonas said. "They'll go to a self-service device instead."

The increased issuance of prepaid and stored value cards will boost adoption levels, Jonas said. "You've got a new group of people with a growing degree of trust in the electronic delivery of financial services."

At least one major ATM operator, Kahuna Business Group, is also adding POS distribution of prepaid services to its product line-up, via a partnership with Prepaid International Network (PIN) of Green Bay, Wisc.

Among the services offered will be guaranteed check cashing in all 50 states, which is accomplished by loading payroll and government checks onto a prepaid debit card, said Ernie Beckman, director of sales for Kahuna, which has some 5,000 ATMs under contract.

Also offered are a number of other prepaid services, including wireless and long distance and Internet access, as well as traditional credit card processing -- all through a single Verifone 3750 terminal.

"A lot of these locations have two to four terminals offering the different products on their counters. They want to free up valuable counter space, and they don't want to have to train their employees on all of the different terminals," Beckman said.

Tom Mortimer, Kahuna's executive vice president, said Kahuna wants to offer its distributors (which it calls affiliates) another tool to improve relationships with retailers. "If they don't have a value add like this, another guy is just going to come along and offer the merchant more interchange."

He added, "This isn't a quick sale where you're going to go out and never come back. You can offer some of the prepaid services to the merchant and prove they work, then come in later and offer more services. It's a great way of continuing that relationship."

Beta tests were recently completed with the new terminals, and results are promising, Mortimer said, with prepaid wireless top-ups performing especially well. For now, Mortimer believes it makes more sense to offer these types of services behind the retail counter rather than at an ATM or Kiosk.

"Retailers can use card displays and other advertising media to direct customers to the counter, and let's face it, when people are in doubt, they're going to ask a clerk for help," he said.

While he thinks the ATMs and kiosks may grow in popularity as a distribution point for prepaid services he said the real winners will be companies like his which offer multiple distribution strategies.

"Ultimately, the consumer will determine what's convenient for them," said bcgi's Anderson. "I think you'll have different products and services available through different channels."


Get ready for the prepaid evolution | Kiosk Marketplace News

Posted by Craig at 10:09 PM

Prepaid Channel

According to analysts, this prepaid distribution method will dominate over the long term
The kiosk Channel
According to analysts, this prepaid distribution method will dominate over the long term.
 
by: Vineeta Kommineni
 
Kiosk defined

Frost & Sullivan defines an interactive kiosk as a self-service computer-based unit, housed in an enclosure, whose primary interface with the customer is a monitor that may or may not be touchscreen based. The kiosk can be stand-alone or networked, and the monitor may or may not be touchscreen based. The accent is on self-service and interactivity of the unit.

The year 2003 marked the beginning of the revival of the fortunes of the interactive kiosk industry. Recent syndicated research estimated the market at $464 million, a surge of over 21 percent from 2002. Applications such as airline self-check in, retail self-checkout, ticketing, online banking, car rental return, bill payment and product information kiosks are driving usage of kiosks and, as a corollary, augmenting ROI and encouraging investment in the self-service industry.

This article examines the suitability of kiosks for vending prepaid services by evaluating the relevant methods of distribution such as POSA, online, ATM and SMS. For this article, prepaid services encompass prepaid long distance cards, replenishment of prepaid wireless accounts, activation of loyalty cards and retailer store cards, and reloading of stored value cards such as gift cards and prepaid debit cards.

Traditionally

While the traditional points of distribution for prepaid long distance services have been the bodega, convenience store, liquor store or cafeteria, for prepaid wireless it has been the wireless carrier’s store, as the initial candidate was a consumer who had been turned down for a postpaid cellular account.

The demographics of the prepaid user is changing from the credit-stressed and unbanked to include low or sporadic users and contract-averse segments such as tourists, business travelers and those with limited discretionary income such as youth. Accordingly, electronic stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, bookstores and grocery stores now offer prepaid services.

When it comes to distribution models, scratch cards approximate 22 percent of purchases in the prepaid services market. Scratch cards are easily concealable, prompting a high incidence of customer and employee pilferage.

These cards also involve high manufacturing and distribution costs and are printed in large batches. As a result, they may remain in circulation for an indeterminate period of time, preventing service providers from adopting uniform marketing strategies, such as the launch of a new brand, for example. Consequently, this is a rapidly declining model.

Point-of-sale activation (POSA) that uses point-of-sale (POS) terminals to activate or recharge prepaid services is estimated to represent 73 percent of prepaid card and prepaid wireless purchases. The terminals usually connect via dial-up to the POSA host and, depending on the technology used by the service provider, the cashier either swipes a card with an inactive PIN for activation or requests the PIN and usage information that is printed on a receipt for the customer.

In Europe, prepaid service providers also issue magnetic-stripe cards that are swiped for recharge against the amount rendered at the register. Another method of recharge uses offline POSA devices that print PINs onto blank cards.

POS convergence of debit, credit and prepaid service activation in a single terminal is rapidly increasing, notwithstanding the additional investment required from the retailer. However, Frost & Sullivan expects the share of this method of distribution to decline steadily over the medium to long term of the forecast period in favor of kiosks, online, ATM and SMS-based replenishment, in that order.

Recharge trends

Online replenishment currently accounts for around 2.5 percent of prepaid card and prepaid wireless purchases, while SMS, ATM and kiosk-based replenishments account for less than 1 percent each.

The proportion of online and SMS replenishment is expected to increase, albeit marginally, over the medium to long term. Most prepaid users are unbanked and unable to take advantage of e-commerce or m-commerce. In addition, e-commerce demands e-literacy, and m-commerce is yet to cross a number of technological hurdles. Currently, European mobile service providers including Cesky Mobile (Czech Republic), Sunrise (Switzerland), Telefort (Netherlands) and France Telecom offer SMS recharge service.

Past studies have shown that a cashier prompting the customer to replenish his wireless account significantly influences his decision. A timely cue to the customer in the form of an SMS message informing him of his prepaid account balance and suggesting replenishment can be similarly effective.

Payment processors EWI Prepaid, Euronet and Boston Communications Group (bcgi) have developed PinExpress, PaySpot and Wallet Watch, respectively, to enable replenishment of prepaid wireless accounts at ATMs. E*Trade Access is provided service by bcgi, while Euronet is partnering with ATM manufacturers such as Tidel and Triton. EWI prepaid has two major U.S. banks readying for deployment of ATMs supporting prepaid wireless services. Co-OP Network and U.S. Bank currently offer prepaid services through their ATMs.

Though ATMs occupy prime real estate, most do not have cash acceptors, and while this barrier is not insurmountable, easing it involves considerable capital outlay and is unlikely in the short to medium term.


Why kiosks?

Kiosks not only combine the advantages of the distribution routes discussed above but also minimize the disadvantages that each pose. As with online, SMS and ATM routes, kiosks lower distribution costs for the prepaid service provider while providing the benefit of cash transactions.

As with POSA, kiosks offer unlimited virtual shelf space, eliminate inventory and card production and delivery costs, minimize customer and employee pilferage, provide real-time sales activity reports and facilitate offering products of multiple service providers.

They also can act as information repositories answering questions such as: "The best card to …?" "What are the connection fees?" "Do you have a card with no surcharges?" "How many minutes does this card have?"

In a retail environment, the cashier is focused on ringing sales and moving the customer through the transaction as quickly as possible. Also, high turnover of customer-facing employees leaves minimal time for product training.

Kiosks also provide up-sell and cross-sell opportunities to customers in a nonintrusive way. They can be available 24/7 and provide a consistent customer experience while reducing lines at the cash counter. Kiosk interface can be designed to interact with a customer in his native language. For example, the Blackstone portal has both Spanish and English interfaces.

Typically, kiosks tend to be located in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores, malls, airports, larger convenience stores and big-box retailers that are convenient touch points for the customer. In locations like malls, airports and university campuses that don’t always have a store with a cashier, the kiosk becomes the store.

In addition, kiosks can function as a conduit for delivering focused promotional campaigns. Because payment is made up front by the prepaid customer and the segment was not considered lucrative until recently, service providers have not concentrated on gathering contact information or drawing a psychographic profile of this particular segment.

However, the northbound ARPU of prepaid customers and high rate of churn has created an insatiable appetite for wireless service providers to know more about this segment. Customers can be persuaded through promotions to register at the kiosk, and the information can be used toward targeted communication to establish brand loyalty or educate customers on value-added services such as SMS that swell ARPU.

The prepaid kiosk can also be used to print coupons earned by the customer for redemption at the store by swiping the loyalty card. The customer no longer needs to hang on to the mailed coupons. Eventually, customers used to swiping their loyalty cards at the kiosk to check for coupons earned will minimize mailing costs. Mailing costs cannot be totally nullified as certain levels of direct marketing need to be continued in order to maintain a personalized relationship with the customer.

The third-party model

Partnering with third-party kiosk networks such as Coinstar, Blackstone or retail store-owned kiosk networks such as Circle K’s Zaplink and 7-Eleven’s Vcom kiosks is an ideal option for prepaid service providers.

First, building a network of kiosks involves significant capital outlay. The cost per kiosk that has a custom-built enclosure, custom application and industrial grade components ranges between $8,000 and $12,000.

Second, considering that the key target segment for prepaid services is the cash-based customer, these kiosks need to be fitted with bill and coin acceptors. Among the challenges posed are maintaining the unattended kiosks and ensuring maximum uptime.

Coinstar Centers

The Coinstar Center is a prime example of the third-party kiosk model for prepaid services. Coinstar, the dominant player in the coins-to-cash niche of the kiosk industry, is retrofitting its nearly 11,000 centrally networked coin-counting kiosks with modular hardware and software components into a flexible and convenient distribution point for a wide range of customer self-service transactions under the brand name Coinstar Centers.

Customers can replenish prepaid wireless accounts of Alltel, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, T-Mobile and Verizon and reload prepaid Truth MasterCard cards. Employees of participating companies can obtain printed wage statements, balance inquiry and payroll cash vouchers.

In compliance with the "know your customer" standards, card association-branded cards such as Truth MasterCard are embossed with the cardholder’s name in order to tie every transaction to a known cardholder. Accordingly, the cards are mailed to the customer and not dispensed at the kiosk. Since the Coinstar Centers are used for loading and not unloading cash, the fraud exposure is expected to be significantly lower.

Currently, nearly 700 Coinstar Centers located primarily in supermarkets offer prepaid services. New smaller footprint versions of the Coinstar Center, ideal for tighter retail spaces, focus on prepaid services without coin counting. Over 150 Coinstar Prepaid Centers have been installed in c-stores, check-cashing outlets and college campuses.

The Coinstar kiosks do not return change to the customer. For the Truth MasterCard card, the inserted amount is credited to the customer’s account after deducting the applicable fee. For prepaid wireless, prepaid long distance, mobile phone ring tones and graphics and prepaid online games, the purchases are made in set denominations. After tax, Coinstar accepts the amount to the nearest dollar as a convenience fee, and the balance is given to the customer on a receipt as a credit toward the next purchase. This restraint is not expected to significantly influence sales at the kiosk.

Coinstar’s platform flexibility enables its kiosks to adapt to new product categories that are important to consumers and retailers. The company’s strategic plan is to be a universal replenishment location for all prepaid services, including prepaid cash cards, gift cards, prepaid long distance and other stored value cards.

Blackstone portal

Another turnkey prepaid services kiosk vendor is Miami-based Blackstone, a distributor of prepaid long distance, stored value and prepaid wireless products through over 300,000 retail locations and a marketer of POS terminals.

Blackstone uses a variety of business models for its Prepaid Stop kiosk that include leases, purchases, rentals or shared revenues. Apart from vending magnetic-stripe prepaid gift and store cards via an attached dispensing unit, the Blackstone Prepaid Stop can also print prepaid gift and store cards onto thermal cards. The kiosk can return change to the customer when available.

The Prepaid Stop offers prepaid wireless services of AT&T, Cingular, T-Mobile, TracFone and Verizon, and regional carriers AirVoice, AllTell, Beyond Wireless, Boost, Hargray, i-wireless and Omni Prepaid. The service has been deployed in supermarkets, drug stores and larger convenience stores along the East Coast over the past year. All machines come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and, after the initial year, the terms of the service agreement take over.

Evaluating methods of distributing prepaid services
 
Distribution methods
 
ATM
Web
SMS
POSA
Kiosks
Caterers to the needs of cash-based
 N
N
Y
Y
Frees employee resources
 Y
Y
N
Y
Eliminates needs for training employees on the product
Y
N
Eliminates queues
 Y
 Y
N
Y
Available 24/7
 Y
 Y
Y
Can interact with the customer in several languages
 Y
Y
N
Y
Serves as a channel for focused media campaigns
Y
Y
Y
Presents up-sell oportunities to the customer
 Y
Y

Two-pronged strategy

Prepaid service providers need to adopt a two-pronged kiosk strategy where they use in-store kiosks to influence branding and use third-party kiosk networks to ensure adequate reach of their product offerings.

AT&T Wireless is already doing this. The AT&T Digital Messaging System designed by Mercury Online Solutions and Frank Mayer & Associates is a web-based network of more than 4,000 kiosks in over 900 AT&T Wireless stores throughout the United States. Depending on the store size and traffic, up to four types of kiosks are installed in each store to demonstrate AT&T products, register store visitors, allow purchases or replay dynamic content to customers based on their interests through an interactive plasma screen. To ensure mass reach of its prepaid products, AT&T Wireless has partnered with Coinstar and Blackstone.

Final thoughts

The success of a kiosk project hinges on the smooth interplay between enclosure manufacturers, software firms, hardware component vendors, integrators and maintenance service providers. These individual suppliers often sell products rather than complete solutions. Barring a handful of turnkey players, there are few ‘keeper of the keys’ or project specialists in the market. Retailers should therefore build turnkey project management into their service level agreements with kiosk operators.

The kiosk interface needs to be user-friendly, especially for kiosks providing prepaid services. That’s because typical users include the unbanked who are likely to be technology neophytes. Repeated usage of kiosks can be accomplished only when the customer realizes the benefits of using it. The customer needs to be enticed in some way to approach the kiosk, and free talk time could prove to be a successful incentive. It is recommended that personnel at the site guide customers toward the kiosks in the initial stages of deployment. Such a strategy has significantly influenced kiosk project success, as has been the case with airline self-check in kiosks and retail self-checkout kiosks.

Past experience shows that a single instance of a nonfunctioning kiosk deters customers from approaching the unit a second time. Use of remote management software and regular maintenance schedules is imperative to avoid malfunctioning printers, unclaimed receipts lying around unattended kiosks and keyboards rendered unusable by stains or missing keys.

Once the benefits of interacting with the kiosk have been instilled in the customer, a shift in his behavioral pattern will occur — the customer now looks around the store for a kiosk instead of the store assistant. This is the "moment of truth." The retailer now has control of unlimited shelf space to sell services through the kiosks, graduating from offering prepaid to financial services such as insurance, mutual funds and loans — the possibilities are endless.ICN

The author is an industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan, an international marketing consulting and research firm. Visit the company’s website at www.frost.com.


Intelecard News Online | By the Numbers

Posted by Craig at 02:31 PM

October 15, 2003

EWI Prepaid and WebRaiser Technologies

Joint Marketing Agreement; Collaboration Leverages Best-of-Breed Technologies and Solutions into Retail, Vending and Fast Food Markets

SAN DIEGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct. 15, 2003--EWI Prepaid, a leading global provider of advanced prepaid services and technologies, today announced a joint marketing agreement with WebRaiser Technologies, Inc. Together with WebRaiser, a software provider and system integrator to the self-service industry, EWI will provide its patented prepaid kiosk payment technology to retail, vending and fast food markets nationwide.

"EWI is pleased to be collaborating with WebRaiser Technologies, a longtime pioneer in self-service technology," said Patrick Hazel, CEO, EWI Prepaid. "We anticipate a rapid return on this joint marketing agreement in the form of new opportunities for both companies, particularly in the fast food arena. The opportunity to leverage the leading brands to open new doors represents tremendous growth possibilities. More and more, retailers are recognizing that self service from kiosks and ATMs is the perfect way to sell prepaid services, and EWI technology like the patented PinXpress(TM) transaction platform is setting the standard in these environments."

"WebRaiser believes strongly in partnering for success," said WebRaiser president, David J. Gonsiorowski. "The combined market leadership positions held by both companies will accelerate our sales and marketing penetration in our targeted verticals and result in significant success."

Designed and built for a wide variety of retail environments and uses, including ATMs, networked point of sales systems, credit card terminals and Web services, the PinXpress transaction platform from EWI is the standard for the real-time delivery of PIN codes in the prepaid environment. PinXpress processes an unlimited array of products and services for a diverse client base including major retailers, distributors, merchant acquirers and re-sellers both in the U.S. and abroad.

About EWI Prepaid

EWI is a leading global provider of advanced payment processing technologies to the prepaid and cash payments sectors. With EWI's patented systems, the delivery of prepaid services such as prepaid wireless, utilities, long distance and wireless content can now be transacted and settled in real time, a vast improvement over prior manual processes. Based in San Diego, California, EWI is a privately held company. For more information, visit www.ewiprepaid.com.

About WebRaiser Technologies, Inc.

WebRaiser Technologies, Inc., developers of the award winning Total Self-Service Enterprise software suite; a universal platform for developing, deploying and managing self-service devices, relationships, applications, transactions and content. WebRaiser is a complete solution provider with products and services uniquely suited to address government, healthcare, human resources, retail, and vending needs. WebRaiser has been focused solely on self-service since 1997. Additional information is available at www.webraiser.com.

CONTACT: EWI Holdings, Inc., San Diego
Patrick Hazel, CEO, 858-560-7373
phazel@ewiprepaid.com

Posted by Craig at 02:21 PM

October 14, 2003

Prepaid Technology Alliance

Info Touch Technologies Partners with EWI Prepaid to Deliver PIN-Based Products across North American Retail Kiosk Networks

SAN DIEGO & BURNABY, B.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Oct. 14, 2003--Info Touch Technologies, North America's leading kiosk Technology Company, (www.infotouch.net) (IFT: TSX Venture Exchange) has entered into a strategic alliance with EWI Prepaid, a leading global provider of advanced prepaid services and technologies to deliver a PIN-based line of prepaid products on retail kiosk networks across North America. Through this partnership, Info Touch has integrated EWI's PinXpress(TM) payment processing solution into its proprietary kiosk security and management platform, Surfnet Premiere.

Info Touch is utilizing EWI's patented PinXpress technology to sell and deliver any PIN-based products or services to consumers in public locations. Consumers are empowered to pay for PINs in cash, credit card, debit card, check or any other payment modality supported by Surfnet Premiere. Although there is no limit to what kind of products and services can be sold, PINs are ideally suited for prepaid goods such as:

-- Prepaid Long Distance

-- Prepaid Wireless Top-up

-- Prepaid Local Dial-tone

-- Prepaid Mobile Content (graphics, games, ring-tones, etc.)

-- Prepaid Wi-Fi Access

-- Prepaid Directory Assistance

Info Touch is currently offering an assortment of the aforementioned prepaid telecom-based products in hundreds of kiosks in the United States through its various kiosk networks in a variety of public settings including convenience stores, malls, airports, wireless products retail stores, hotels, etc.

"We are thrilled to join forces with EWI Prepaid. Its PinXpress technology enables Info Touch to literally stock the virtual shelves of its various kiosk networks that utilize Surfnet Premiere with tangible and valuable products and services," said Hamed Shahbazi, chairman and CEO of Info Touch Technologies Corp. "Info Touch can now virtually fulfill PIN-based products in a secure and robust way in any public location, which will help Info Touch grow revenues and improve the ROI for kiosk operators that use our technology."

"EWI is pleased to be working with Info Touch, a company that sets the standard for kiosk technology," said Patrick Hazel, CEO, EWI Prepaid. "We are confident its use of our patented PinXpress payment solution will deliver the competitive advantage needed to prosper in the retail environment. More and more, retailers are recognizing that self-service kiosks are a superior and cost effective way to sell prepaid services and PinXpress is the standard for these environments."

About PinXpress

Designed and built for a wide variety of retail environments and uses, including ATM terminals, networked point of sales systems and Web services, the PinXpress transaction platform is the standard for the real-time delivery of PIN codes in the prepaid environment. PinXpress processes an unlimited array of products and services for a diverse client base including major retailers, distributors, banks and re-sellers both in the United States and abroad.

About EWI Prepaid

EWI is a leading global provider of advanced payment processing technologies to the prepaid and cash payments sectors. With EWI's patented systems, the delivery of prepaid services such as prepaid wireless, utilities, long distance and wireless content can now be transacted and settled in real time, a vast improvement over prior manual processes. Based in San Diego, California, EWI is a privately held company. For more information, visit www.ewiprepaid.com.

About Info Touch

Recently named one of Canada's Profit 100 and Deloitte and Touche's Fast 500 (in North America) companies, Info Touch is North America's leading provider of kiosk software based security and management solutions. Surfnet Premiere, its flagship software platform, is the Fortune 1000's preferred solution for public Internet access. Established in 1997, Info Touch provisions premiere kiosk technology solutions that help drive bottom-line benefits through the convergence of online and offline operations. Info Touch clients include: Chapters Indigo, Coca Cola Corp, Future Shop/Best Buy, Macs/Couchetard, ConocoPhillips/Circle K, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, KB Home, Chase Manhattan Bank, Merrill Lynch/HSBC, MCI, the U.S. Army, Marines Corps and Navy.

CONTACT: Info Touch Technologies Corp.
Behshad Hastibakhsh, Media Relations
604-298-4636, Ext. 250
Toll Free: 888-679-3322
pr@infotouch.net
or
Linear Capital Corp.
(Investor Relations -- Info Touch Technologies Corp.)
John Lewis, 416-364-2266
Toll Free: 1-877-600-6001
jrlewis@linearcapital.com
or
EWI Prepaid Services
Patrick Hazel, CEO, 858-560-7373
phazel@ewiprepaid.com

Posted by Craig at 03:15 PM