Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. may have a funny name, but its approach to cutting costs is all business. The Charleston, S.C., grocery chain recently finished testing biometric scanners that allow shoppers to pay for purchases with nothing more than a fingerprint. Now it is preparing to roll out the machines at its 80 stores.
"The real impetus for us is to address the rapidly increasing cost of processing electronic payments," says Rich Farrell, vice president of information services at Piggly Wiggly Carolina. A recent increase of two cents per debit card transaction by one electronic payment company added $40,000 in annual fees to Piggly Wiggly's account, eating into the company's already thin margins. "A retailer can't refuse to take credit cards, because that would put us at a competitive disadvantage, so we need to find less expensive methods of payment that are just as convenient for our customers," says Farrell.
The scanners, which cost about $50 apiece, work with existing point-of-sale systems and link to customers' debit or credit accounts, sit by the familiar card-reader in the checkout line. Integration was quick and relatively simple, says Farrell. Expanding the program after the trial was an easy choice, he says. "You can study this stuff to death, but the cost is not huge, and it will help us over the long term."