The allure of point of sale debit has hooked another major retailer.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., has signed a contract with Checkmate Electronics Inc., to install the Roswell, Ga., company's CM 2001 automated teller machine/point of sale terminals in nearly 2,000 stores.

The retail giant said it will accept MasterCard International's Maestro on-line debit card. It has not reached a similar agreement with Visa U.S.A. to accept Interlink.

Since Wal-Mart accepts credit cards, Visa's off-line debit card and MasterCard's MasterMoney can be used to make payments as well.

A Wal-Mart spokesman attributed the debit card selection to "regional and pricing scenarios." For instance, cards bearing the Pulse logo will be accepted. The Pulse regional network has about a 98% market share in Texas.

"I think this is tremendously significant," said Carl Stefanelli, vice president of MasterCard's Maestro debit program. "Wal-Mart is the No. 1 retailer."

Wal-Mart decided to accept debit after concluding "a pilot program in Houston that left them very satisfied with on-line debit," Mr. Stefanelli said. "There is every indication they will expand their service."

Debit card acceptance has been growing for a number of years. Initially dismissed as little more than enhanced ATM cards, stores have come to the cards as a gateway to a wide variety of consumer transactions.

Nationwide, debit point of sale transactions grew 52% in 1993 and 1994, compared with growth of only 8% for ATM transactions over the same period, noted Bank Network News, a Chicago newsletter.

Maestro and Interlink - the two national on-line debit networks - have also made great strides. Earlier this year, Maestro announced it had signed Urban Outfitters, which sells clothes, accessories and housewares, and Rack Room Shoes, a southeastern retailer.

Interlink has inked deals with chains such as Barnes & Noble, Foot Locker, Kinney Shoes, and Midas Muffler.

Last October, Minneapolis-based Target Stores, which claims to be California's largest retailer, introduced debit acceptance in that state and Minnesota. Interlink, Maestro, and Explore, the debit card of Star System Inc., are among the networks accepted at Target.

"This is a beginning of an avalanche of on-line debit acceptance in a retail setting," said Mr. Stefanelli. "When players like Wal-Mart and Target join, every other retailer has to look over its shoulder. No retailer will be able to resist" adding debit cards.

"Customers have been more comfortable with it," said the Wal-Mart spokesman. "From the standpoint of our stores, we benefit from increased transaction speed plus more validity of payment, since it cuts down on bounced checks."

In June, Checkmate Electronics Inc. announced that the CM 2001 had been certified by Toronto Dominion Bank for use in Canada's Interact debit card network. The CM 2001 terminal accommodates credit, debit, and ATM cards along with personal identification cards.

As of June 30, Checkmate said it had terminals in 1,983 Wal-Mart stores, 184 SuperCenters, 433 Sam's Clubs, 127 Canadian Wal-Mart stores, one Brazilian Club, three Hong Kong Value Clubs, and 68 in Mexican stores.

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