Coming Soon: Financial Services With Your Slurpee At 7-Eleven
By Purva Patel, Business Writer
December 11, 2002
South Florida consumers soon can pump gas, buy a Slurpee and wire money to Latin America at the local 7-Eleven.
The convenience store chain is rolling out about 40 electronic kiosks this week in Fort Lauderdale and Miami in the name of convenience, but some analysts and consumer groups question whether the financial and retail combo is such a delectable idea.
The 3-foot-by-6-foot kiosks let customers pay bills, withdraw money, cash checks, obtain money orders and wire money wherever there's a Western Union. If all goes well, the advanced ATMs also will sell auto insurance, make loans and provide online shopping as well as credit card applications by spring.
7-Eleven is also exploring other products customers may not expect to find at its convenience stores. In California, some customers can now buy sushi with that Big Gulp.
The chain that sells 11.6 million Slurpee drinks each month and almost 100 million hot dogs a year nationwide plans to have kiosks in 1,000 stores by April of next year. If all goes well, the chain will roll out an additional 2,500 kiosks during the second half of 2003. The machines were introduced earlier this year in Orlando and the Tampa Bay area. The selected stores sold higher volumes of money orders and had customers more receptive to 24-hour banking, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven said. No plans have been made to bring the kiosks to Palm Beach County yet.
The targeted customers include those who are uncomfortable with banks and insurance companies, don't have access to the Internet, or want financial services at off-peak hours.
"Our focus is really providing convenience," said Jay Giesen, vice president for the stores' Vcom operations. He said each visit should take two to three minutes.
Miami-based bank analyst Ken Thomas applauds the store for providing service to a broader audience, but he questions its effectiveness.
"You still have to wonder, `Are they going to give proper advice? Are customers going to be overcharged?'" Thomas said.
Mixing retail with finance also has proven unprofitable for some retailers. Maitland-based Marketplace Bank tried to sell bank services at its Winn-Dixie branches, but pulled out this year.
Consumer groups had mixed opinions.
While new technology can seem odd, they said, it often expedites everyday tasks. However, one group said consumers will need to make prudent decisions about how they respond to the instant access to credit.
"I know people with piles of debt that aren't too thrilled about how easy it was to get credit," said Travis Plunkett, of the Consumer Federation of America.
Plunkett also thought 7-Eleven may be overly optimistic to think consumers would want to buy insurance from a kiosk.
"It's one thing to hand out $20 bills at an ATM, and it's another to hand out complicated financial products," he said. "Insurance is something you want to take time on."
Still Giesen points out that those who need personal attention or have questions can speak with a bilingual customer service representative through a phone attached to the kiosk.
"Our research shows that people want this," he said.
Purva Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4667.
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