Welcome Real-time, a French company that makes smart card loyalty software, has introduced a product that lets people download electronic coupons onto smart cards and use them in traditional stores.
The company, based in Aix-en-Provence, is marketing the technology to banks and credit card issuers in the United States and Europe. Some of these companies are considering setting up a smart card program, and others - like American Express Co. - have already done so. Cardholders would go to the financial services company's Web site to get the coupons.
Welcome Real-time would not disclose the licensing fee it charges card-issuing companies but said any company signing up for the program could more than recoup its costs by charging merchants a fee to offer the coupons. It said that the program could help issuers attract cardholders and that the software is not difficult to install for a bank with a smart card program.
The lack of smart card-accepting terminals in brick-and-mortar stores has been Welcome Real-time's biggest obstacle. But Anneace Haddad, its president and chief executive officer, said he thinks the loyalty dimension of his offering could prod merchants to install smart card terminals or revamp their existing ones to accommodate smart cards.
"Retail executives want a synergy between their physical and virtual stores," Mr. Haddad said. "When you look at what merchants spend today on paper couponing programs, that costs a lot of money, and those promotions can't even be targeted. All they have to for this is upgrade their terminal."
Mr. Haddad said fast-food chains would probably be the first to use his product because it is best suited to buy-four, get-one-free-type deals.
He said some chains could get the program up and running in a year and that once a few major chains upgrade their terminals to accept smart cards, a herd mentality would set in, as happened with the adoption of credit card terminals.