pcats pushes loyalty standards

Initiative would streamline access to rewards data for convenience store and petroleum marketers.

The Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards(PCATS) is developing a domestic standard for loyalty cardprograms to allow them to be integrated into the multiple point-ofsale and back-office systems now servicing in the industry.Working through PCATS’ Retail Financial TransactionsCommittee, the initiative aims to provide a standardized format forthe exchange of data related to loyalty programs, such as theissuance and redemption of rewards and other applications specificto the industry, said Pat Lewis, president of Oasis Stop ‘N Go inTwin Falls, Idaho, and president of the KickBack rewards program.Lewis is chairing the project for PCATS.

“Having a standardized data format will help facilitate integration of POS interfaces for use by different loyalty programs, thereby affording retailers the opportunity to participate in multiple programs at the same time without experiencing increased POS costs,” Lewis said.

“Current programs utilize both stand-alone devices and integrated-POS systems to capture data and transmit it to the loyalty host for processing. Increasingly, such processes are mirroring financial transaction processing and thus, are raising similar technological issues,” he added. “Developing an industry standard that governs the exchange of loyalty data between POS vendors and loyalty partners will accelerate the availability of loyalty programs and create additional value for the convenience store and petroleum industry.”

PCATS is also considering the development of an independent certification process for data exchange, similar to that used to certify the POS and back-office system interface in NAXML. The loyalty value proposition for PCATS members would allow POS and loyalty providers to certify their applications against the standards only once.

The standards initiative has support from the both the retailer and supplier communities.

“We think it will be good for our loyalty program and for the industry,” said Ross Mirabito, chief information officer for Mirabito Fuel Group in Sydney, N.Y. “It will allow any conforming vendor’s loyalty program to run on most of the POS systems out there instead of having to do a custom install on each POS system. It would openup the market for loyalty vendors and most importantly drive down the entry cost for c-store retailers.”

Mirabito, like Lewis, is a retailer and a loyalty program administrator. His company manages the Rewards Plus loyalty program through third-party processor ValueCentric Marketing Group (VCMG). Rewards Plus is offered in all 55 of Mirabito’s Quickway Food Stores.

John Cullen, executive vice president of AutoGas Systems Inc., which offers POS, back office and loyalty systems, said technology standards will benefit convenience marketing.

“We do not envision any drawbacks to standardization,” he said. “Standardization would bring an affordable and powerful marketing solution to thousands of convenience store operators, giving them an opportunity to compete and win locally by rewarding consumers with a product that they want and need: free gas.”

While it is still early in the process, Radiant Systems also supports the standards effort. “In general we support open standards that allow best-in-breed applications to interface with each other in the manner that is easiest for retailers,” said James Hervey, market development manager for Alpharetta, Ga. based Radiant Systems Inc. “We and our customers have had tremendous success utilizing the PCATS-NAXML POS-back-office interface.”

Some technology providers privately lobbied against the standards initiative to protect their businesses, but have been slowly coming around as they begin to realize the benefits that will be available to them, and, more importantly, because retailers are driving the change.

“As a retailer it is in my best interest to have more solutions providers and the ability to have choices when it comes to selecting a loyalty program,” Lewis said. “Having just one option would force me to make a decision that could hurt my business. Standardization will eliminate this dilemma for retailers.”

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