July 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

Circle K Stores` Zaplink kiosks are serving up profits

The c-store chain`s Zaplink web-based kiosk program offers a growing range of products and services ranging from video e-mail messaging to lottery tickets, but most important, it`s serving up profits, Circle K says.


Circle K Stores Inc.`s Zaplink web-based kiosk program offers a growing number of products and services ranging from video messaging to lottery tickets, but most important, it`s serving up profits, Circle K says. "Our transactions are increasing every month and we`re already profitable," Michele Tihami, director of Zaplink Services for Circle K parent ConocoPhillips Co., tells InternetRetailer.com.

The kiosks provide three sources of revenue that Circle K shares with kiosk provider InfoTouch Technologies Corp.: an Internet access charge of 19 cents per minute, transaction fees for cash transfer and online bill payment services, and advertising revenue.

Circle K, which operates 2,300 convenience stores nationwide, has deployed Zaplink kiosks in 150 stores in Arizona and 10 in northern California, and plans to deploy 10 next month in the Charlotte, NC, area and eventually chainwide. Its strategy is to build density in each market and region, making it more likely that consumers will learn about and use Zaplink`s services, Tihami says.

Zaplink users can surf the web or use other free web-based services, such as the Speak Your Mind video postcard service, for which there is no additional fee. Speak Your Mind, which runs over InfoTouch`s Surfnet Premiere network, records a video message that can be e-mailed to any other terminal connected to the Surfnet, which so far connects more than 1,000 kiosks in several regions including Europe and Australia as well as North America, an InfoTouch spokesman says. He adds that Surfnet kiosks are available on several U.S. military bases.

Zaplink users can communicate with Western Union through a voice-over-IP web phone connection to arrange for money transfers, then settle the actual cash transaction at the store counter. They can also pay bills from companies such as wireless service providers.

The Zaplink kiosks have built-in computers that operate a video advertising/messaging screen that stores position above their sales counter. Advertisers include Coca-Cola Co., KB Homes and Easy Fast Advance, a financial services company. Ads and messages on the screen may call attention to products available for sale in the store or to services available on the kiosk, Tihami says. An advertiser, for example, might place a message on the screen about e-coupons available on the kiosk, where they can be printed out and used for in-store purchases.

The kiosks also provide free services, such as lists of local restaurants and directions to local attractions, that users can view and print out on an adjacent printer. "They can search the kiosk instead of asking a store clerk," Tihami says.


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