GIANT, RALPHS TO TEST PLANE TICKET MACHINES

Giant Food, Landover, Md., and Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., plan to test automatic dispensing machines for airline tickets at selected stores.The machines, similar to automatic teller machines, initially will deliver airline tickets ordered through travel agencies. If the machines prove popular, retailers hope to expand the service to the delivery of Amtrak, entertainment and special-event

Giant Food, Landover, Md., and Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., plan to test automatic dispensing machines for airline tickets at selected stores.

The machines, similar to automatic teller machines, initially will deliver airline tickets ordered through travel agencies. If the machines prove popular, retailers hope to expand the service to the delivery of Amtrak, entertainment and special-event tickets, as well as travelers' checks and cash.

Docunet of San Francisco, the company that supplies the machines and service, still is in the negotiating process with both chains, so details of financial arrangements have yet to be worked out. Kevin Davis, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at Ralphs, said he expected the store would be paid a commission on ticket sales.

Giant hopes to begin testing the concept at 60 of its stores in Washington and Virginia. "We're basically offering a delivery system for tickets in our stores," said Terry Gans, Giant's vice president of advertising and sales promotion. "It's merely a delivery vehicle" for tickets previously ordered.

"When you call an airline or a travel agent and order tickets, you could then go and pick them up at our store," Gans said. Payment for the tickets will be made by inserting a charge or debit card into the dispensing machine.

According to an industry observer, the new service represents another way for supermarkets to get a competitive edge over other retailing formats, and take advantage of the high traffic that a supermarket enjoys.

Ralphs is projecting an early

1995 test introduction of the system in 25 of its stores, said Al Gray, the chain's senior vice president for administration.

Ralphs' ultimate plan is to "have the machines in place chain-wide at all 167 Ralph's. Our intention is to move forward with this system as soon as we finalize an agreement with Docunet, which should happen in the next several weeks. We would start off with the airline tickets and then move into these added services."

Davis said, "The Docunet system is brand new and something that we'll be trying. We want to gauge customer reaction."

However, Davis added he was unsure of how important the convenience of picking up airline tickets at a supermarket will be to customers, especially in an area like California. The importance of convenience could vary depending upon location in the country.

"I don't know how convenient the ticket-dispensing part of the system, which is the revenue-generating part, will be," Davis said. "In Los Angeles, people usually will drive 30 to 40 miles a day so we don't know if having this service at a supermarket offers that much of a benefit. However, in another part of the country, during a snowstorm, for example, picking up tickets at a supermarket closer to home may be more important than driving downtown for airline tickets."

But if the ticket-dispensing machine could double as an ATM machine, Davis believes the Docunet system would provide convenience by allowing a shopper to obtain cash without having to wait in line at a checkout stand.

Vajid Jafri, president of Docunet, San Francisco, said "several of the largest U.S. travel agencies -- US Travel, Thomas Cook, Travel One, Giselle's and Travelogue -- are planning to deliver tickets on the Docunet system."

The Docunet Machines are made by Olivetti of Spokane, Wash. EDS of Dallas owns and supports the electronic network for Docunet system.