BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Coinstar coin-counting machines in 11,000 supermarkets may eventually receive an upgrade that will enable shoppers to convert their loose change to prepaid MasterCard credit cards, in addition to traditional cash and store vouchers.
The latest features of the machine unveiled by Coinstar here also include a bill acceptor and credit/debit reader, which allows consumers to generate prepaid mobile phone cards, and to process digital photos.
Existing machines can be retrofitted with these features for free once initial tests at several chains nationwide are completed, according to Rich Stillman, chief operating officer, Coinstar. New "backlit" Coinstar machines, to which existing machines are being converted, have an empty upper-right quadrant, allowing for the easy installation of hardware necessary for extra services, Stillman explained. The 7.5-square-foot imprint of the machine would remain unchanged by the installation.
The prepaid MasterCard credit card, called the Truth Card, is being piloted at 38 Albertsons stores in the Reno, Nev., area; and at 11 Gerlands and four Foodtown stores in Houston. A prepaid mobile phone card pilot, TopUP, is being tested at 23 Save Mart stores in Modesto, Calif.; 25 Kash N' Karry stores in Tampa, Fla.; 20 Shaw's in the Providence, R.I., area; and four King Kullen stores in New York. The digital photo pilot, a partnership with PhotoWorks, Seattle, is running at 11 Scolari's and one Sak n Save in Reno; 24 Bi-Lo stores in Charlotte, N.C.; three Bi-Lo stores in South Carolina; and 10 Market Place stores in Seattle.
The current pilots will need to run six months before Coinstar considers them fully explored, according to Stillman. The wireless and photo-processing pilots have been running approximately four months, and the Truth Card about six weeks. Stillman said the company hopes that some kind of decision regarding the added services will be reached this year.
In Coinstar's current coin-counting machines, 8.9% of the change customers feed through them is taken as revenue by the company. From that, 11.2% is shared with the retailer. If the new services are rolled out, the fee will most likely stay at 8.9%, but Stillman anticipates that the percentage the retailer receives would increase.
To get the prepaid MasterCard, from Next Estate Communications, Monrovia, Calif., consumers can use credit/debit cards, currency or coins inserted in the Coinstar machine. The machine issues a voucher for the amount with a telephone number the consumer calls to activate the card, which is then mailed to the consumer's home.
The credit card account remains live once it is established, and consumers can continue to add money to their card as long as they want by inserting the card at the time of transaction.
The TOP UP program allows consumers to add money to existing wireless prepaid phone cards or accounts. Now only currency, not coins or credit cards, is accepted in this application. It is compatible with all major wireless providers.
The digital photo processing uploads photos from a digital camera disk to a PhotoWorks processing center, where photos are printed that day and mailed to the consumer's home. The service currently costs between 25 and 29 cents per print, Stillman said. Payment is made using cash or credit/debit cards at the machine.