Fee Ban Ends

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled yesterday, by a vote of 5-2, that state banking laws do not apply to ATM surcharges. The lawsuit was initially filed in federal court where a federal judge ruled that federal regulators have sole authority to regulate ATM fees of nationally chartered banks. Yesterday’s decision will likely propel the ATM issue to the Connecticut legislature next year, where proponents of the ATM fee ban will sponsor a law specifically banning such fees. Meanwhile, FleetBoston said it will go forward with its previously announced plans to implement surcharges on noncustomers beginning Jan. 3. Other Connecticut banks are expected to follow. Monday’s court ruling will undoubtedly have an effect on similar bans in California which are currently on hold.


Domino Effect

Domino’s Pizza will begin accepting credit cards at all of its 654 corporate locations early next year. Paymentech will authorize and settle credit card transactions for all company-owned Domino’s stores. Paymentech is already processing credit card purchases at 166 corporate and 500 franchised locations. Paymentech will also promote its program to the more than 3,900 Domino’s franchised locations throughout the country. Specialized POS applications for Domino’s include POS system integration and Internet reporting for credit card transactions and settlement activity.


Beenz Counter

Mondex and UK-based beenz.com are teaming up to develop a smart card capable of carrying Mondex e-cash, beenz and complementary e-commerce services. Consumers can earn beenz at web sites and can spend their beenz on products and services at participating online retailers including Motley Fool, MP3.com, and SpeedyClick in the U.S. There are 450 million beenz in circulation and beenz.com inc has just completed its 14 millionth transaction. There are currently 440,000 beenz accounts. The Mondex deal includes the technical and marketing development of a special Mondex smart card. In addition, the companies will also seek to enable real/virtual world use of the applications whereby cardholders can earn and redeem beenz both online and offline.


ATM-X in Vegas Pilot

Cash Technologies, Inc. and Diebold, Incorporated, a leading manufacturer and distributor of automated teller machines, announced yesterday that they have installed the first of four Cash Technologies ATM-X machines at Rent-Way stores in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of a pilot program. In addition to traditional ATM cash dispensing, these “super-ATMs” will be capable of check cashing, electronic bill payment, targeted advertising and other functions. They represent the first commercially deployed units to be driven by Cash Tech’s EMMA (E-commerce Message Management Architecture) transaction processing platform.

Rent-Way is a leader in the rent-to-own industry, with approximately 330,000 customers and 1114 stores. Most of these customers visit their local Rent-Way stores each week to make their rental payments and shop for furniture and appliances. The ATM-X machines can offer customers new services and leverage Rent-Way’s retail presence.

Cash Tech’s EMMA system is an open-architecture software platform that allows a wide range of financial services, including Internet-based products, to be delivered on ATMs, kiosks and online PCs for the first time.

“The deployment of these ATM-X machines will demonstrate the dynamic capabilities of our EMMA transaction software and is a milestone in Cash Tech’s e-commerce business plan,” said Bruce Korman, Chairman and CEO of Cash Technologies. “The machines will also feature Cash Tech’s proprietary check cashing application, which, to the best our knowledge, is the first system that can provide fully automated check cashing functionality, including new customer enrollment, without requiring a call center.”

The ATM-X machines are customized Diebold 1062ix advanced-function ATMs which combine an array of evolutionary self-service and networking technologies, including Diebold’s sophisticated OPTix(TM)/Professional software platform and document scanning module, iris recognition devices provided by Sensar, Inc. and TCP/IP (Internet Protocol) based client software developed by Cash Tech. As part of the pilot, three additional machines are anticipated to be installed at Rent-Way stores during January, 2000.

“We are excited to partner with Cash Technologies in providing the first EMMA-driven super-ATMs to Rent-Way,” remarked Roy Shirah, V.P. of Global Product Planning and Management at Diebold. “Diebold’s OPTix/Professional development software and our superior hardware platforms allow companies like Cash Technologies to develop solutions which meet their specific business needs. As consumers increasingly demand greater convenience in obtaining financial services, we believe that the market segment targeted by the ATM-X will become an essential part of the emerging e-commerce landscape.”

About Diebold

Diebold, Incorporated is a global leader in providing integrated self-service delivery systems and services. Founded in 1859, Diebold employs more than 9,000 associates with representation in more than 75 countries worldwide and headquarters in Canton, Ohio, USA. Diebold reported revenue of US$1.2 billion in 1998 and is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ‘DBD.’ For more information, visit the company’s Web site at [http://www.diebold.com][1].

About Rent-Way

Rent-Way, Inc. operates 1116 stores in 41 states under the brand names RentWay and Home Choice Rentals. Rent-Way rents quality, brand name merchandise such as home entertainment equipment, furniture and major appliances on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis under full service rental-purchase agreements that permit the customer to acquire ownership of the merchandise at the conclusion of an agreed rental period.

About Cash Technologies

Cash Technologies, Inc. develops and markets innovative e-commerce kiosks and systems, including the EMMA transaction processing software and the multifunction ATM-X(TM) automated teller machine. Through EMMA, consumers will have access to a wide variety of financial services on an ATM or financial kiosk, including Internet based e-commerce products and services, check cashing, electronic bill payment, event ticketing, interactive advertising, traditional ATM cash dispensing and other functions, using a variety of payment methods including ATM cards, credit cards and cash.

[1]: http://www.diebold.com/


ShopNow Buys Bottomdollar

ShopNow.com Inc., a leading e-commerce enabling company for business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce, announced Monday its acquisition of WebCentric Inc., a developer of e-commerce integration technology and applications including bottomdollar.com ([http://www.bottomdollar.com][1]) that allows shoppers to search and compare products and services from many of the Internet’s leading businesses and merchants. bottomdollar.com generates over 4 million product searches and leads to merchants every month, and has more than 1,000 partner sites and 20 product categories. Through bottomdollar.com, WebCentric enables e-commerce throughout the US, UK, France and Canada.

ShopNow.com acquired WebCentric for approximately $50 million in an all-stock deal.

bottomdollar.com’s shopping search engine and proprietary technology will be integrated into the ShopNow Network offering visitors a comprehensive way to shop the ShopNow Network and the Web in general, by quickly and easily comparing key decision factors such as price, shipping cost, merchant ratings and availability of millions of products across the extensive ShopNow Network and the Internet.

“Integrating our commerce search engine, price and product comparison technology into the ShopNow Network will allow visitors to make highly informed purchase decisions on the Internet,” said Craig Johnson, CEO and co-founder of WebCentric. “This type of empowerment to the average consumer would be impossible in the real world. We believe this acquisition marks an important step forward in the growth of online shopping.”

The ShopNow Network ([http://www.shopnow.com][2]) offers visitors 28 shopping categories, over 40,000 merchants, millions of products and services, and a host of business-to-business e-Commerce solutions. The ShopNow Network has experienced significant growth over recent months, becoming the 33rd most popular property on the Internet according to PC Data Online. The ShopNow Network currently boasts over 6 million monthly visitors spending an average of over 24 minutes on the site.

“bottomdollar.com offers sophisticated search and comparison technology that is easy to use and extremely helpful for the online shopping community,” said Dwayne Walker, chairman and chief executive officer of ShopNow.com. “This acquisition is a logical move that will further establish ShopNow.com as a leading e-commerce enabling company by bringing tremendous power to shoppers and by delivering millions of leads and orders to our business and merchant partners. Additionally, the acquisition allows us to immediately add over 1,300 Web sites to the ShopNow Network. Furthermore, we will expand bottomdollar.com to include free offers and business products and services.”

ShopNow.com also recently acquired Cortix, Inc., operator of comparison shopping services including online reviews and ratings for commerce oriented businesses, merchants and products. These services will be integrated with bottomdollar.com’s shopping search engine into the ShopNow Consumer Guides.

About bottomdollar.com

bottomdollar.com is the leading comparison shopping engine which enables consumers to make the best purchase decisions by instantly comparing top Internet merchants across a comprehensive selection of product categories for the US, UK, French, and Canadian markets. The bottomdollar.com shopping engine powers the bottomdollar.com network which includes over 1,000 affiliate web sites. Both bottomdollar.com and the bottomdollar.com network are owned and operated by WebCentric, Inc. of Wichita, Kansas.

About ShopNow.com Inc.

ShopNow.com Inc. is a leading e-commerce enabling company for business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce. ShopNow.com operates an e-commerce network known as the ShopNow Network, which is comprised of online access to over 40,000 businesses and over 6 million shoppers. The ShopNow.com portal ([http://www.shopnow.com][3]), is an online marketplace for connecting buyers and sellers worldwide and provides a range of business-to-business e-commerce products and services. ShopNow.com Inc. is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, with additional offices in Georgia, Arizona and California.

[1]: http://www.bottomdollar.com/
[2]: http://www.shopnow.com/
[3]: http://www.shopnow.com/


Mich Natl Wins VISA Award

Visa U.S.A. has awarded Michigan National with a 1999 Member Service Quality Performance Award.

This marks the eighth consecutive year that Michigan National has won an award for achieving one of the best chargeback rates by an acquirer with annual Visa sales between $2 billion and $5 billion.

The award reflects Michigan National’s ability to provide world-class service by educating merchants on Visa card acceptance procedures and the importance of providing adequate transaction description information for the cardholder’s benefit.

“Once again, Michigan National has been recognized by Visa for superior performance,” said Marc Belsky, senior vice president of Payment Products and Services for the bank. “This recognition demonstrates the exceptional depth of experience of our team and the consistent focus we place on merchant education and training.”

“Michigan National’s outstanding operating performance mirrors its continuing commitment to excellence, both to its customers and to the Visa payment system,” said Matt Price, senior sales director, Visa U.S.A. “The end result of Michigan National’s efforts is a cost-effective program that delivers optimal value and convenience to its customers.”

For nearly a decade, Visa and its member financial institutions have worked together to maximize profitability and back office operating efficiency by reducing unnecessary copy requests and chargebacks and increasing authorization approval levels without increasing risk.

Since 1992, Visa has recognized superior operating performance by U.S. issuers and acquirers in key operating areas. Michigan National is one of 34 financial institutions from Visa’s United States membership that has won awards in one or more categories this year. Members qualified for service quality awards during the May 1998 to April 1999 period.

Visa is the preferred payment brand and the largest consumer payment system worldwide. It plays a pivotal role in advancing new payment products and technologies to benefit its 21,000 member financial institutions, their cardholders, and the global economy. Visa is the only consumer payment system to facilitate $1 trillion worth of purchases of goods and services in a fiscal year. Visa’s 660 million cards are accepted at more than 14 million worldwide locations, including 370,000 ATMs in the Visa/PLUS Global ATM Network. Visa’s Internet address is [http://www.visa.com][1].

Michigan National provides diversified financial services and offers creative ideas and product options designed to help consumers and businesses meet their financial goals. A member of the National Australia Bank Group, Michigan National is a $10.7 billion-asset financial services corporation with 194 financial centers and more than 300 ATMs. Michigan National is committed to being the bank of first choice in its markets and provides the leading-edge products and services that customers expect from a member of a global financial network. Visit Michigan National’s web site at [http://www.MichiganNational.com][2].

[1]: http://www.visa.com/
[2]: http://www.michigannational.com/


Net/Tech Buys ROI

Net/Tech International announced Friday that it has entered into an agreement to acquire ROI Corporation, a privately held company in Woodstock, Georgia. ROI markets software that processes electronic payment transactions for companies selling through Internet e-commerce, retail outlets, and mail order call centers.

ROI’s software is “middleware” that is certified to provide access to credit card and check authorization networks for application software from companies like Binary Tree, Computer Associates, J.D. Edwards, Friedman Corporation, HarrisData, Intentia, LANSA, VAI, and dozens more. ROI customers range from small Internet marketers and retailers to companies like Alltel, Brunswick, IBM, and Skytel

According to Glenn Cohen, President of Net/Tech, “ROI will propel Net/Tech into an e-business category — providing infrastructure for the e-commerce marketplace.” In March 1999, Net/Tech sold the rights to its patented “Hygiene Guard Hand Wash Monitoring System” to GOJO Industries. GOJO is in the process of commercializing this technology, for which Net/Tech is entitled to receive payments based on sales for up to 15 years.

Charles Pecchio, President of ROI, said, “ROI is the leader in credit card processing software for the IBM AS/400 in the United States. We believe the availability of additional capital will allow us to leverage our position. We intend to offer our software on other systems, like Unix and Windows. We also intend to expand internationally and to pursue acquisitions of other software companies whose products are complementary to ours.”

Under the terms of the agreement, ROI’s shareholders will exchange their shares of ROI common stock for common stock of Net/Tech. “Once all of the terms and conditions of the agreement have been met,” said Cohen, “ROI’s shareholders will have controlling interest in Net/Tech. We believe that the potential market for ROI products and services will continue to grow rapidly as more and more companies implement e-commerce systems.”


Signio Sold

VeriSign, Inc. announced this morning it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire privately held Signio, Inc., a provider of payment-services connecting online merchants, B2B exchanges, payment processors and financial institutions on the Internet. Under terms of the agreement VeriSign will issue approximately 5.6 million shares of VeriSign common stock for all of the issued and outstanding capital stock of Signio and will assume Signio’s outstanding employee stock options. VeriSign stock opens at approx. $131 per share this morning. The acquisition will be accounted for as a purchase transaction. VeriSign says by linking Signio’s payment services with VeriSign’s widely-recognized brand, sizeable customer base and global network of resellers and affiliates, the company will now accelerate market adoption of its payment platform. Signio currently counts close to 2000 online merchants and over 200 resellers in its payment services network and has linked its services with leading payment processors such as EDS, FDC, Nova, Paymentech, Telecheck and Vital.


ATM & Cell Phone Vending

DebitFone International, a wholly owed subsidiary of SATX, Inc. announced Friday that they have signed a contract with Direct Connect, a division of Schwaz, LLC.

Direct Connect has been in the ATM business for many years with hundreds of operating ATM locations throughout Metro New York, New Jersey and Long Island.

Michael Schwartz, President and founder of Direct Connect stated “We have been looking for the right opportunity to expand our revenue base and DebitFone is a natural fit. Our ATM machines are located in proven high traffic areas that will provide tremendous exposure for the DebitFone vending machine. I’m looking forward to placing the first 1000 phones into our market as quickly as possible and generating the monthly residuals as a result of air time usage”.

Mr. Schwartz also stated, “It’s too early for us to project sales and revenues, however we are convinced that as a result of the impact on the economy made by cellular and other wireless products, DebitFone will allow us to participate in this ever growing revenue steam. People spend several minutes standing at an ATM machine completing transactions and now they will have the opportunity to purchase a cellular phone completely charged, ready to use with air time and no contracts to sign.”

Garry McHenry, VP Sales and Marketing for SATX, Inc. commented, “This contract is the result of negotiations over the past several months. It is just the first of the contracts we expect to sign before the end of the year.”


Messy Litigation

A lawsuit over cancellation of a merchant account is being aired in the news media. Los Angeles-based Voice Media, Inc., a provider of adult-oriented products and services over the Internet, filed a lawsuit against credit card processor XtraNet Systems, Inc. d/b/a DataBank International. XtraNet says it terminated the account on Nov. 30 due to excessive chargebacks and anticipated penalties upon VMI imposed under VISA and MasterCard regulations. VMI claims that XtraNet forged documents in banking relationships and mishandled more than $1.3 million dollars in reserve funds belonging to VMI, including the diversion of at least some portion of this money into offshore accounts. VMI’s lawsuit also claims multiple chargebacks and credits were issued by XtraNet against a single transaction which resulted in credits of thousands of dollars of activity in a single month, when the credits, if any, should have been in the tens of dollars. VMI alleges that XtraNet’s accounting irregularities is to blame for the dramatically increased chargeback ratios, as high as 8 to 20 times higher than normal that have produced $600,000 in chargeback penalties.


USPS Cash-Back

The United States Postal Service announced last week that debit card users can now make a cash withdrawal, up to $50, when conducting a postal service transaction, at any of the USPS 33,000 post office locations. The option has been available this year at most post office locations but was officially expanded to all locations last Wednesday. The USPS also announced that it now has expanded acceptance to include Diners Club, Carte Blanche and JCB International cards. The Postal Service began accepting credit cards in 1995 and in its first year generated 29.8 million transactions, representing $1.2 billion in purchases. Initially credit cards were accepted for all transactions including bulk mail services and postage meter loading, however after the first three months, the USPS limited usage to retail transactions. Last month, the U.S. Postal Service and KeyCorp launched a pilot program to deploy ATMs in post office lobbies in Maryland. The USPS says the ATM pilot may pave the way for eventually distributing Social Security payments, federal retirement payments, and other benefits via Post Office ATMs nationwide.


Return Policies Factor

Eighty-nine percent of online buyers say return policies influence their decision to shop with an e-retailer, according to a recent survey of 9,800 consumers by BizRate.com ([http://www.bizrate.com][1]), the Internet’s leading e-commerce merchant rating site and marketing research firm.

The post-holiday return rush is just around the corner and the focus for online retailers will shift from order fulfillment to processing returns. With 36 million orders forecast to be placed on the Web this holiday season, at least 5 percent of those orders are expected to be returned. At that point, the quality of return policies and customer support will become paramount in winning or losing customer loyalty.

“If online shopping is to continue the promise of convenience, merchants will need to pay close attention to building return policies that are customer friendly,” said Paul Bates, vice president of Information Products Group for BizRate.com. “Online buyers tell us every day that the key to winning their loyalty is the level and quality of customer support.”

The BizRate.com survey also revealed that simply having a return policy is not enough. Consumers stated that the most important factor for an optimal online return policy would be a 100 percent money-back guarantee, followed by not being charged a fee to have the merchant restock the product.

Certain attributes of return policies can actually drive potential customers away. These include the inability to receive credit on a credit or debit card (85 percent) followed by a time limit to return products that is “too short” (68 percent). Other attributes that online buyers consider important are whether the merchant allows products to be returned by mail (66 percent) and the ability to exchange a product for another item (58 percent). Sixty-two percent of consumers said they would prefer to return products by mail instead of traveling to a brick-and-mortar store.

Other findings include:

— Refunds (59 percent) ranked as the leading form of action taken on returned products followed by exchanges (27 percent) and credit at an offline or online store (11 percent).

— The three leading products returned were clothing (27 percent), computer software (20 percent) and books (15 percent).

— An overwhelming majority (92%) of respondents would be inclined not to do business with online merchants who imposed a service charge to return a product to an offline store.

— 71 percent said that if they purchased a tax-free item online, they would not exchange it at a retailer’s offline store if a sales tax were imposed on the exchange.

— 94 percent of returns were mailed back to the online retailer versus returned to an offline store.

— 73 percent of those surveyed said that return policies for online stores are comparable to returning items purchased through a catalog.

— On average, survey respondents had returned only one to two items purchased online during their individual personal histories of Internet shopping.

About BizRate.com

Founded in 1996, BizRate.com is an unbiased, independent rating guide built on the experience of millions of actual online buyers. The BizRate.com site combines valuable consumer information with a powerful set of shopping tools that help people find the store or product they want, as well as offers recommendations based on user-specified criteria. BizRate.com is the only company trusted by more than 2,700 e-businesses to collect this direct consumer feedback and transactional information at the point of purchase. The online store performance ratings, derived from this data, denote the only statistically rigorous way of differentiating retailers on “quality of service” metrics. BizRate.com information also appears on Consumer Reports Online and in Consumer Reports magazine, as well as through top Internet portals such as AltaVista, Go2Net, Go Network, Microsoft Networks and Snap.

[1]: http://www.bizrate.com/