Pay By-Bye

Biometric-payment provider Pay By Touch ceases operations

SAN FRANCISCO -- Solidus Networks Inc., which does business as Pay By Touch, called a halt to its biometric payment operations last week, as reported in a CSP Daily News Flash, unable to leave a lasting impression with its concept of allowing customers to pay for goods using the touch of a fingertip.

Numerous retailers in the convenience-store market, including a pilot with Houston-based Shell Oil Products U.S., got swept up in the idea 's potential. But the bankruptcy of Solidus Networks ' owner in late 2007 put a cloud on the company 's promise, if not a damper on the futuristic application [image-nocss] itself.

“While we were sorry the only licensed, biometric vendor in the U.S. wasn't able to fulfill its vision, they had kept us informed of their financial situation,” Shell downstream spokesperson Karyn Leonardi-Cattolica told CSP Daily News via e-mail. The company launched a 10-store pilot in the Chicago area last fall, but discontinued the effort in December.

“It didn 't surprise me [that Pay By Touch folded],” said Amer Hawatmeh, president and CEO of Coast to Coast Markets Inc., Tampa, Fla., which also tested the technology. “I broke my relationship with them quite some time ago. It was a phenomenal system, but … we had to build the infrastructure in the stores ourselves. It became too dramatic. They had layers upon layers of people, and I would always ask, ‘Why aren 't these people helping to build the infrastructure in our stores? '”

Hawatmeh started using the Pay By Touch biometric-payment technology, as well as the accompanying check-cashing capability, in his first Coast to Coast family convenience center in 2006. He ceased working with Pay By Touch this past summer.

“It got to a point where I could see us starting to bang heads,” he said. “I believed so much in the technology that I actually invested my money and time in it. But we became stale. We put 1,300 customers on [the system], and that 's because we hustled it. All the debit customers coming in, we took the time to register them and get them to know it, to use it.”

Coast to Coast employees manned a sign-up station in the 4,500-square-foot store, scanning each customer 's information—driver 's license, check, etc.—and clearing them to use the system. Once that happened, customers could pay for in-store purchases with the touch of a finger. Some customers fell in love with it quickly.

“But there was no return on investment. So at some point it just stopped,” Hawatmeh said. “When it went away, it just kind of went away. No matter what, customers still had their debit card. … It 's a shame they couldn 't make it, but there are reasons for that.”

He recalled two customers in particular getting so upset that the store stopped accepting biometric payment that they threatened never to shop there again.

“They were so into the technology,” he said. “We tried everything to appease them, but there was nothing they wanted to hear. The rest of the folks were okay with it. ... Like a bad haircut, it just kind of went away.”

Shell officials said customers react positively to new payment technologies. “The company is responding to customer feedback by testing innovative payment technologies such as this biometric-based pump payment solution pilot in the U.S. and hand-held wireless scanner tests in Central America and Asia,” Leonardi-Cattolica said. “We will continue to look at innovative, new ways to make the refueling experience faster and easier.”

Last fall, Pay By Touch CEO and founder John Rogers filed for personal bankruptcy. At the same time, Pay By Touch employees filed a petition for involuntary bankruptcy against Solidus Networks.

The Pay By Touch technology verified personal identity using biometrics, the measurement of unique physical and behavioral characteristics. In the case of Shell, customers used a finger scan to pay for a fuel purchases from an existing financial account, typically eCheck (a direct debit from a checking account), Shell Card or Shell MasterCard.

In the Chicago area, supermarket chain Jewel also had to cease its Pay By Touch offer. The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that customers and even several employees were surprised by the move.

In an official statement, Solidus Networks said that as part of the company 's restructuring, “it was determined that the enterprise could no longer support the biometric authentication and payment system as it currently exists, based on lack of funding and current market conditions.”

The statement said other non-biometric Solidus Networks business units will continue on their current business paths. In addition to biometric authentication, the company works in personalized marketing and payment solutions.