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One small swipe for customers, one large improvement for Mobil.

In the current competitive business

< environment, it is increasingly important

for retailers to improve the buying experience for customers. In many cases, a critical focus of these

< efforts is in streamlining the payment process. This not only benefits the customer, because less time is spent waiting on lines, it also increases sales throughput--and hence revenues--for the retailer. Take the gasoline industry, for example.

< "The biggest demand we've seen from customers purchasing gasoline," says Tory Travis, computer operations manager for the Mobil Oil Credit Corporation, Lenexa, Kan., "is for making their gasoline purchase transactions faster." Mobil is meeting this customer requirement < by deploying a nationwide network of customer-activated terminals (CATs). To use the terminals, customers insert their credit card in a slot on the gas pump itself to initiate the authorization process, performed on a centralized host computer in Lenexa. After authorization is completed, a process that only takes a few seconds, the gas pump is unlocked automatically. If the card is not authorized, no gas can be pumped. When the customer hangs up the nozzle,

< the transaction is ended, the sale completed, and a receipt printed at the pump. All credit card billing data is simultaneously relayed to the centralized host, a NonStop Cyclone system from Tandem Computers, Cupertino, Calif. "CATs are catching on because they < make sense," Travis says. "They increase transaction speed, resulting in increased through-put for the dealer, and they keep customers coming back because they are fast and easy to use. "CATs are a strategic innovation," he

< continues, "because customers go through the station faster and enjoy the convenience of the terminals. Parents especially appreciate not having to leave their children unattended in the car while they pay for gas." Another benefit of CATs is improved

< operating efficiencies. "The system," Travis explains, "tracks the value of each credit card transaction in real time, reduces paperwork for dealers and the processing center and minimizes chances for human accounting errors. Mobil started market testing CATs as < an enhancement to their point of sales (POS) network in 1987, and in mid-1991 decided to begin an aggressive implementation of the system; half of Mobil's CATs were installed in the last six months of last year. A key reason Mobil was able to implement

< so many CATs, so swiftly, was the fact that the company owns and operates its own POS network, which, besides CATs, includes other types of electronic POS terminals linked to Lenexa via a combination of leased and dial-up lines. The network accepts virtually all major < credit cards as well as Mobil's own private label card and provides access to 18 different shared electronic funds transfer networks, thereby supporting an estimated 90 different bank debit cards. "Credit card purchases represent an

< important portion of all sales at Mobil gas stations," Travis says, "with the vast majority of these sales being completed via our electronic POS network. "The remaining credit sales are completed

< with manual imprint terminals. These manual terminals also serve as backups to the automated system in the event of a temporary outage." At all CAT-equipped stations, data is

< transmitted, via leased lines using the Tinet protocol, to the centralized host processors. "Leased lines are required for CATs,"

<

Travis says, "in order to support the high transaction speeds we require. With dial up lines, transactions take as long as 20 seconds, but with leased lines we can reduce that to less than five seconds." Because POS and CAT applications are < so business-critical, Mobil depends on the fault tolerant online transaction processing (OLTP) environment offered with Tandem computers. The linear expandability of Mobil's

<

OLTP system also enabled them to easily increase capacity to accommodate the CAT program. Since the retail business environment

< is so changeable, expandability will again be important in the future as new applications are added to meet changing requirements. Already the company has begun using

< their POS network to download information to dealers. "In the past," Travis explains, "we used to send notices, such as tank price changes and planned outage alerts, in the mail. But now we just post a notice on the dealers' POS terminals indicating that a message is waiting. "The dealer then inserts an ordinary

< sales ticket in the terminal and the notice is printed." For the future, this two-way information < transfer system may be expanded to allow dealers to upload information to the central host. If implemented, this system could be used for a number of applications. By automatically uploading inventory data, for example, the ordering process could be streamlined. From movie theaters and amusement

< parks to supermarkets and gas stations, customer initiated credit card transactions enhance the purchase experience for customers, increase throughput, reduce labor costs and provide valuable management control information. "The benefits of CATs are many and

< diverse," Travis says. "But the bottom line is that they boost sales for dealers and keep customers coming back for more because they appreciate the improved buying experience."

<
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Title Annotation:Manufacturing; Mobil Oil Credit Corp. uses customer-activated terminals
Author:Diamond, Sam
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:818
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