By YVETTED. KANTROW
NEW YORK -- Hoping to avoid some of the mistakes of their predecessors, sponsors of the Maestro debit card network have enlisted major retailers to advise them on the system.
The fledgling electronic network, which is owned by MasterCard International, has created a Merchant Advisory Council composed of 15 prominent retailers.
They include representatives from the supermarket, fast food, convenience store, and gasoline businesses - industries where the primary forms of payment are cash and checks.
Summer Launch Expected
Maestro, which expects to go live this summer, is envisioned as a nationwide system that will allow consumers to make purchases with their ATM cards.
The merchant council is expected to be formally announced today in a marketing move aimed in pan at Visa U.S.A., MasterCard's major bank card competitor.
Visa is currently promoting Interlink, a big point-of-sale transaction system it bought from four California banks in 1990. The Interlink system is expected to expand from a regional to a national system this summer.
Maestro is billing the merchant council as "the first of its kind" for a national on-line debit card system.
Previous attempts to launch national point-of-sale systems have been stalled because of poor participation by retailers, who disagreed with bankers over pricing and operating rules.
Items on the Agenda
"All of our research and statistics indicate to us that success of on-line debit, or any form of payment, is dependent upon the merchant's support and understanding of that product," said Arthur D. Kranzley, president and chief executive officer of Maestro U.S.A. "it seemed obvious that we had to get their input because we don't understand their business like they
The council, whose first meeting is set for June 29, will focus on issues relating to the marketing and promotion of debit cards, employee education, and technical requirements of the Maestro system, Mr. Kranzley said.
Maestro's attempt at merchant involvement did not extend to pricing. It has already set a fee schedule for transactions over the system.
Most of the participants in Maestro's advisory council are already big players in the pointof-sale game.
Among them are the Lucky, Publix, and Safeway supermarket chains; the Mobil, Texaco, and Arco petroleum companies; the Circle K convenience stores; and the Carl's Jr. fast food chain, a unit of Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc.
Also in the group is Target Stores, a discount retailer, which could represent an opening to the general merchandise community that has so far shunned most debit programs.
No Firm Commitment
Membership on the council, however, does not necessarily equal an agreement by the merchants to accept cards that will bear the Maestro mark. But it does signify a preliminary commitment to the network.
Linda E. Manson, manager of electronic services for Circle K. Corp., said she is hopeful that retailers will have a say in operational and pricing issues.
"In the past, I don't believe merchants have ever been approached on marketing or the lack of marketing of debit cards," she said.
Interlink executives said their rival is trying to catch up with their system. When Visa acquired the network in 1990, its cards were accepted at 5,000 merchant locations. Since then 1,000 more retail outlets have signed up.
"The beauty of Interlink is that it has been working with merchants since 1984, and the network was built based on their needs," said Peter Gustarson a senior vice president at Visa. "Maestro is on a learning curve in that it has never processed a single transaction."