Staying in Touch

Consumer, market legwork make Shell's biometric gamble a calculated risk

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

CHICAGO -- Though Shell's recently announced 10-store pilot of biometric payment may sound futuristic, customer surveys, cross-channel legwork and a solid advertising plan may have turned this high-tech gamble into more of a calculated risk.

Houston-based Shell Oil Products US spent two years bringing the project to this point, Chris Suess, manager of global refueling innovations, told CSP Daily News, with first-mover advantage among petroleum retailers being a competitive coup.

Timothy Finn, senior vice president of sales for [image-nocss] Pay By Touch, the Roswell, Ga.-based technology supplier for the project, told CSP Daily News that Shell will reap the benefits of being first in the gasoline sector to offer the payment option. We've made contact with others in the channel and there will be a lot of companies closely watching [Shell's pilot].

Based off of the results of this pilot, we'll determine how much we'll promote the program, Suess said, adding that if successful in Chicago, the program will become available to marketers and retailers at rates that Shell officials and Pay By Touch will negotiate.

Numerous elements came into play when deciding upon Chicago as the project's pilot city, Suess said. These included the following:

Chicago replicated what the company felt was the overall U.S. demographic.

Testing of equipment durability, especially with island-mounted devices, could continue in the city's harsh winter cold and extreme summer heat.

Local grocery stores have implemented the technology, allowing for an existing base of retail locations that customers can use the payment option.

In Chicago, Shell will be leveraging that networking effect, Finn of Pay By Touch said.

The process also allows for customers to pay without retailers having to incur skyrocketing credit-card fees, Suess said. A customer enrolling on site or initiating the process online at home (a customer must still conclude the sign-up process by coming into a store to provide fingerprints) can opt for three different payment forms: an electronic check processed via automated clearinghouse (ACH), the Shell gas card and the co-branded Shell MasterCard.

The oil company also intends to communicate the program locally through radio and print advertising, mobile billboards and via another new on-site technology, its TV-in-the-pump program.

Already at 300 sites, including the pilot Pay By Touch locations in Chicago, Shell has installed TV screens above the customer-display area at each on-site dispenser, part of a technology project that began rollout six months ago.

The technology supplier, Fuelcast Media International, Los Angeles, provides Shell with a two-to-three-minute loop that runs from the time the customer lifts the nozzle to when he or she hangs it back onto the pump. Through an agreement with local NBC affiliates, the segment runs a mix of weather reports, entertainment and advertisements.

We have people captive for three to four minutes while they're fueling, Suess said. We spoke with our customers and they said as long as we didn't bombard them with advertising, they'd appreciate the video.

With both the biometric payment and video at the pump, he said technology will be an important driver for Shell going into the future. We want Shell to be the first choice for motorists and we aim to achieve that with operational excellence, Suess said. That involves having the right people in place, first and foremost; but it also requires keeping stride, if not staying ahead of the curve, where technology is concerned.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
View More Articles By Angel Abcede