WAVE AND PAY: Could it be that shoppers at Sheetz aren’t paying for their purchases? Neither cash nor credit cards change hands; customers merely wave and walk. What the casual observer may miss is that shoppers are using a new form of tender called “contactless” payment. As of last month, all Sheetz’s 309 convenience stores began accepting them, making the chain the first in the country to roll out the technology. By May, all gas pumps at the $2.3 billion chain will be equipped to process the cards. Unlike a magnetic stripe credit card, whose information is extracted with a swipe through a reader, contactless cards contain a computer chip and antenna that transmits information for credit card authorization via short-range radio frequency. To tender payment, shoppers wave their card within about an inch of a reader — or for added flourish, they just tap their wallet containing the card against the reader. Rich Steckroth, manager for new business development at Sheetz, said the chain decided to roll out the technology in hopes of speeding transaction times, which is key to convenience store retailing. Because the contactless credit card does not leave the hands of the shopper, and purchases below $25 require no signature, checkout lines move faster. “If you can cut 10 to 13 seconds, there is a real opportunity there” to increase sales, Steckroth said. The contactless cards, called PayPass from MasterCard, also contain a magnetic stripe for use at other merchants. At Sheetz, the cards interact with card readers from VivoTech in stores, and readers from Gilbarco Veeder-Root out at the gas pump islands. Activity in the contactless payments arena has heated up in recent months. Drugstore chain CVS is in the process of introducing American Express’ ExpressPay contactless card, and on Feb. 25, Visa International announced availability of its contactless offering. The Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz operates stores primarily in the mid-Atlantic region.

DO IT YOURSELF: Customer self-checkout technology, once dismissed as a novelty, is making considerable headway in Tesco stores, where shoppers scan, bag and pay for their groceries without assistance from a cashier. To date, the $58 billion U.K. retailer has installed 285 self-checkout stations in 96 of its stores. Tesco, which operates more than 2,300 stores in 13 countries, is using self-checkout systems from NCR. According to a study conducted by IDC on behalf of NCR, consumers are receptive to the technology. Some 68 percent polled cited shorter lines and faster checkout as a benefit and 66 percent indicated they liked having the option of choosing either conventional cashier checkout or the self-service automated systems.

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