FRED MEYER INTERACTIVE READERS TO DO SURVEYS

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Fred Meyer Inc. here will use interactive electronic payment readers as a gateway to precise consumer demographics.The retailer will equip all stores with new payment terminals by Sept. 30. The system rollout, driven by the recent launch of electronic benefits transfer programs in one of Fred Meyer's market areas, will enable stores to accept both debit and EBT transactions for the

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Fred Meyer Inc. here will use interactive electronic payment readers as a gateway to precise consumer demographics.

The retailer will equip all stores with new payment terminals by Sept. 30. The system rollout, driven by the recent launch of electronic benefits transfer programs in one of Fred Meyer's market areas, will enable stores to accept both debit and EBT transactions for the first time.

Fred Meyer also views the new terminals as a direct two-way communication link with customers. The retailer plans by 1997 to use the devices to survey shoppers in the checklane while they wait for their orders to be totaled.

"We like the idea of having the freedom to ask questions of the customer," Walt Spellman, vice president of information services, told SN.

Consumers will use the payment terminal keypads to respond to the questions displayed on the screen. By analyzing their responses, Fred Meyer will determine more accurately the consumer demographics for its stores, which could result in more effective marketing programs and may influence store expansion plans, sources familiar with the program said.

The retailer can examine the data to see if the consumers it is targeting with mailed circulars are actually shopping in its stores.

"If we decide we want to follow up on a mailed [advertisement], we could ask the customers what their ZIP codes are," Spellman said. If survey

results indicated that few shoppers from a targeted ZIP code area responded to a particular marketing piece, for example, Fred Meyer could rethink that promotional strategy.

Fred Meyer may also use the system to simply gauge a customer's experience in the store, he added. "We may ask them, 'Did you find a parking place? A shopping cart? Did you find the merchandise you were looking for? Were you greeted pleasantly?' "

The first question will appear on the screen after customers swipe their cards at the terminal and subsequent questions will continue to appear for the duration of the transaction. The terminals are supplied by Atalla, San Jose, Calif.

Fred Meyer may also eventually use the system to enhance its frequent shopper program. "[Consumers] could just swipe their frequent shopper card and we could put up the person's name on the screen and tell them how many points they have: all that sort of information," Spellman said.

The addition of electronic payment terminals to its front end complements a recent wave of point-of-sale technology upgrades designed to reduce checkout time for the consumer.

The rollout "fits into the direction we're heading," Spellman said. "We have been moving toward any technology that will help us improve productivity" at the front end.

Point-of-sale terminals were upgraded while scanners and register scales were replaced for better speed and reliability, he added.

The retailer said its move to the new terminals came in response to the recent rollout of EBT in Utah, where Fred Meyer has seven food stores. Utah went statewide with electronic benefits transfer Feb. 1.

"In a way, we were pushed into moving to this technology," Spellman said. "We had not planned to do something until this year, when Utah decided to go with EBT."

Two more states where Fred Meyer operates, Washington and Oregon, are planning to launch their own EBT programs next year, he said, which further heightened the need for stores to upgrade technology to accept EBT.