Overall, Two Thumbs Up

By Andrea Orr  |  Posted 2005-07-18 Print this article Print

The launch did not, however, go off without a hitch. Piggly Wiggly had to spend several weeks writing its own software to link the Pay By Touch technology to its existing transaction network. Because biometric technology is still not foolproof, the system occasionally fails to read fingerprints of people with rough or extremely calloused hands.

"For people who might work in construction or some other field that is hard on the hands, their fingers are harder to read," said Eric Bachman, Pay By Touchs chief operating officer. Bachman said the company had opted to employ a high level of scanning sensitivity that would eliminate the risk of a false positive or a finger being misidentified.

Like Farrell, Bachman concurs that introducing the fingerprint scanners to stores and shoppers was almost surprisingly simple. Once consumers drifted to the in-store kiosks out of curiosity, it was easy to get them to stay and complete the 2-minute registration.

Of course, the development of the underlying technology had been far more painstaking. Pay By Touchs product is the result of decades of research into biometrics. Long a futuristic-sounding concept that was touted at trade shows but not deployed broadly, biometric technologies such as fingerprint scanners remained on the margins of high-tech innovation until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sparked interest in hacker-proof identification technology.

"Sept. 11 was really an event that brought biometrics onto the map in so many ways," said Bachman. "A lot of investment was made, and costs came down."

Since it was founded in 2002, Pay By Touch has acquired rights to multiple biometric patents and has refined the underlying technologies for use in retail.

Piggly Wiggly Carolina spent the early months of this year introducing the Pay By Touch technology to all its stores, and the rollout was completed last month.

In fact, initial statistics reflect consumer adoption rates that are more stunning than just satisfying. Just months after Piggly Wiggly introduced the service, it is finding that between 15 and 20 percent of its noncash customers, or those who typically paid by check, credit card or debit card, now use Pay By Touch, said Postell.

Among those early adopters is a surprising number of people who fall into a demographic thought to be fearful of technology. Postell said that many seniors had been quick to switch to fingerprint payments, which upon reflection made sense. Many of those seniors, she said, indicated they were as concerned with offline theft as they were with identity theft and were grateful for a system that let them go to the market free of any encumbrances that could be lost or stolen.

Even the companys own clerks quickly took to the technology, finding it a convenient way to make small purchases such as a can of soda or a pack of gum when they were on short breaks and had their wallets tucked away in employee lockers.

Judging by loyalty card statistics, Piggly Wiggly has found that its Pay By Touch consumers are not only moving through the checkout line more swiftly but also coming back to the store more often.

"They are buying more than they used to. It must be the ease of the purchasing process," said Farrell. "When we first purchased this technology, we were looking for a payment system that would enhance speed, convenience and security, and this does all three," he added. "It is still so new to market, but we really feel like it is the wave of the future."

Andrea Orr is a free-lance writer in San Francisco. Contact her at andrea_orr@sbcglobal.net.

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