Exxon ewiz-ens Up

Major to grow financial-services kiosks at On The Run c-stores

FAIRFAX, Va. -- There's a wave of excitement carrying the financial-services kiosk industry, and ExxonMobil is about to ride the crest.

Reflecting a recent report by the Aite Group, an independent financial-services research and advisory firm that predicts the number of such kiosks to rise from 2004's 21,400 to 57,400 by 2009, Michael Gore, manager of U.S. convenience retailing for ExxonMobil Fuels Marketing, told CSP Daily News the company is ready to expand its ewiz kiosk program from its current placement in 70 company-owned On The Run stores to approximately 500 [image-nocss] more in Texas, California, Florida and New York in 2006.

By the end of 2007, he said, there should be at least one multi-functional machine in each of the more than 900 company-owned stores as well as in franchises, which he numbered at between 400 and 500. Customers can use the kiosks to pay bills to local utilities and other billers, get money orders, transfer money, cash checks, and buy and add to prepaid phone or gift cards.

We certainly are getting into the game in a big way, said Gore. It's a major investment. In things like opportunity costs, as we call out the offers, there's a whole marketing piece to this. We're putting in thousands of dollars per store when we launch these (kiosks), in terms of callout at store level. I've got a category management team working on the whole concept.

ExxonMobil introduced ewiz, enabled by software from InfoTouch Technologies Inc., in the Memphis area in 2004. Hoping to cash in on the huge number of unbanked and underbanked people in the United States, ExxonMobil joined c-store retailers Circle K, Speedway, Kum & Go, 7-Eleven and most recently Sunoco in the industry's growing commitment to multi-service machines.

The most-used feature of the kiosks is bill-pay; companies are recruited to take payments from the kiosks, users pay a fee per bill (Circle K's Zaplink system charges $3, for example), and the retailer gets a cut of the fees. Gore said the phenomenon would not be as explosive if the unbanked and underbanked were the only users.

We've learned we've also got a lot of folks who have bank accounts and still like this as a last-minute option to go in and pay bills, he said. We say our targeted customer is an 18- to 34-year-old who is also a hectic worker. It's for the soccer moms who are busy on the go, soccer dads, construction workers. Time is at a premium, and it's great to have this as a fallback.

Gore said that once the placement is national, there will be national advertising, and the inception of the use of the kiosks as Internet hot spots.