Forget the hassles and time lags associated with traditional card fulfillment … an new vending machine takes applications, dispenses cards or tags, and encodes them for instant use. After nearly three years of development, Accelitec is about to unveil the AcceliStation, the first self-service automated transponder dispenser.
AcceliStation looks, and operates, like an ordinary vending machine, only this one will spit out an RFID-enabled, stored value contactless keytag or fob that can be used, in place of cash, in the store where the fob is obtained.
Accelitec, located near the Canadian border in Bellingham, Washington, was formed in 2001 by CEO, Tom Bartz. Mr. Bartz got his retail experience in the oil and grocery industries working deals such as the one between Wal-Mart and the oil industry that brought gasoline sales to America’s largest retailer.
“I’ve worked with Safeway and Kroger,” he said. “I saw that RFID could eliminate some of the throughput issues and lower fraud in supermarkets.”
Utilizing his retail background, Mr. Bartz created Accelitec with the aim of bringing contactless technology to retail stores. Within the fourth quarter, he said he intends to announce a major placement of the AcceliStation in the stores of a major retailer.
“We’re testing it right now,” he said, adding that he’s currently unable to divulge the retailer’s name.
“What we’ve been doing behind the scene is building a network, building other devices. We’ve been very quiet, under the radar right now.”
The AcceliStation kiosk dispenses and securely authorizes contactless payment devices, such as fobs, key tags, and larger transponders, even cards, if that’s what the retailer wants. The tags can be used immediately by the consumer once they’re activated. A credit, debit, or bank card, or a prepaid account, including checks, can all be used. In addition, the tags can be linked to any loyalty program the retailer might have, said Mr. Bartz.
Because of the growing success of contactless payment technology, Mr. Bartz is confident that the AcceliStation will succeed.
“Several successful contactless payment programs are underway in the US, and major credit card issuers such as American Express, MasterCard and Bank of America have their own pilot programs,” said Mr. Bartz. “Until today, traditional methods of getting a transponder into the consumers’ hands have involved call centers, fulfillment centers, online and paper applications, and sending transponders through the mail. With the launch of AcceliStation, customers are able to receive transponders in minutes using a secure, consumer-friendly process at a cost far less than existing methods.”
The RFID dispenser is retailer-dependent, he said. That means that Accelitec will produce the kiosk and the tags based on the retailer’s specifications. The dispenser can resemble an ATM machine that may be affixed to the wall, or it can be a free-standing vending-style machine.
“We have three models of automatic transponder dispensers, from a portable model all the way up to a full dispensing model,” he said.
And whether the machine dispenses a fob, key tag, plastic card, or even a watch also depends on what the retailer wants for his customers, said Mr. Bartz.
“A customer walks up to the unit and makes his selection (like he would at an ATM machine) at a touch screen. He signs up, selects his payment method, credit card or even a check,” said Mr. Bartz. “It will also take cash, but most retailers don’t want to deal with cash.”
“The machine authenticates back to a database to make sure the person is who he says he is, that ID theft isn’t involved. It then prints out the terms and conditions. A customer also has the option to have his photo taken which is then tied to the tag. That’s up to the retailer. The customer then receives the tag. It drops from the bin. The customer retrieves the transponder, then is instructed to wave it in front of the reader, to initialize the tag,” added Mr. Bartz. “And the tag is ready for use.”
The maximum amount the customer can place on the chip is set by the retailer, said Mr. Bartz. “A PIN number can even be required,” he added.
Again, depending on the retailer, AcceliStation is also capable of producing peel-off stickers that can be applied to the customer’s cell phone or his watch.
Next year, when the RFID watch is introduced, it will be a complete, working watch with the RFID chip. “People can buy the watch for $30, but if they buy so much over the next month at the retailer’s, then the watch is free,” said Mr. Bartz. Again, that is something that is determined by the retailer.
As to maintaining the machines, “we have proprietary cartridges. The store manager can change out the cartridge in a minute. Each cartridge holds 100 transponders,” he said.
“The units are also monitored,” he added. “We monitor 27 different points in the unit. We monitor the paper, we know when the door is opened and whether the machine is getting low on transponders. And if you tilt the unit, or move it, it shuts down.”
With Mr. Bartz’s familiarity with POS in the retail industry, particularly oil, he has been able to tap a national maintenance network that will fix any hardware problems.
“We build devices, the network, all private label. When we walk into a retailer, the reader, the transponder, the dispenser are all under their brand. We’ll be the first group, as of January, 2005 that will have a total private label solution,” said Mr. Bartz.
Accelitec also builds its own reader because “we could not get poeple to build readers for us the way we wanted,” he said. “We have our own R&D engineering staff as well. We work with the 14443 standard, Mifare, etc. We can do all that within the reader set. We can turn it on or off, depending on the retailer. We’re platform agnostic. We’ll sell to anyone who wants us.”
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