Most Effective Use of IT in Retail

Winner: Midcounties Co-operative Society

Project: Biometric Payment System

Business goal: To establish a secure ID verification and payments system that would reduce costs and increase customer convenience.

Project partners: Pay By Touch, Fujitsu, Certegy

Local supermarket organisation, the Midcounties Co-operative (MCC), has the drinking culture of fresh-faced students in the Oxford area to thank for its successful application of ‘biometric checkout’. The chain of 350 trading outlets – the result of the merger of the West Midlands and Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester Co-ops – first investigated the use of fingerprint recognition at self-scan checkouts in its Oxford stores as a means of verifying that students buying alcohol were over 18.

However, the MCC quickly realised the Biometric Payment System it was piloting had much wider potential as a full ‘electronic wallet’ for all types of transactions and customers.

In selecting biometric technology from San Francisco-headquartered Pay By Touch, MCC set some tight expectations: the deployed fingerprint recognition system would have to integrate (at low cost) with the Co-op’s GlobalStore electronic point of sale (EPOS) infrastructure; it would have to perform identity verification, checkout payment (via direct debit) and dividend updates at conveniently high speed; and it would have to appeal to all age groups, regardless of their technical knowledge.

After the initial roll-out in March and April 2006 to six stores proved successful, MCC is now planning a wider deployment of the biometric payments system for later in the year. That decision is based on some demonstrable business benefits. The speed of payment, when combined with adding dividends and completing age verification checks (where necessary), has averaged 25% faster than equivalent Chip & PIN transactions. With customers no longer having to remember and input PINs, the system is also unquestionably more secure than existing payment methods. That is likely to translate, MCC estimates, into £800,000 in additional profits per year.

For customers, the only hassle comes with the enrollment process – web registration and initial in-store scanning of their fingerprints.

But with just over half of MCC customers already registered or expressing an intention to do so, the trail blazed by the Midcounties Co-op in biometrics is unlikely to remain neglected by other retailers for long.

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