Cineplex screens RFID for customer service

Cineplex Entertainment is rolling out RFID payment technology to ease line congestion at its national chain of movie theatres.

Cineplex, which operates a total of 130 locations across the country, is deploying MasterCard’s PayPass technology, a radio frequency solution that avoids the usual “swipe and sign” routine of most credit cards.

The PayPass system is being incorporated into MasterCard’s next generation of credit cards. The new version is essentially the same as the older variety with the addition of a tiny RFID chip that is embedded directly into the card. A reader recognizes the chip and charges the necessary amount to the cardholder’s account.

The system is being tested at three Toronto-area theatres and will be rolled out to at least 100 more by the end of this year, said Cineplex spokesperson Pat Marshall.

“We’ve eliminated the need to hand over your card to somebody behind the counter. With a customer simply tapping the card on the reader, it’s processed as a normal MasterCard transaction,” said Nagesh Devata, vice-president of acceptance development and product solutions for MasterCard Canada.

The idea is to speed up the time it takes to complete a transaction, said Cineplex’s Marshall. “We have been looking at a number of different options to do that. We thought the PayPass technology was a great option. We were very keen to put this in place,” she said.

PayPass is just one of the upgrades currently underway at Cineplex. The movie theatre chain is playing catch-up to some degree since its acquisition last year of Famous Players. In 2004, for example, Cineplex began to upgrade its entire point-of-sale system with a product from New Zealand company Vista Entertainment Solutions, which specializes in retail technology for movie theatres. The Cineplex part of that upgrade was completed in December 2005.

“Now with the acquisition of Famous Players, we have to go and roll out that upgrade through all of our Famous Players (theatres),” said Marshall, adding that 70 locations will be upgraded by the summer.

Like PayPass, the Vista Entertainment Solutions POS rollout should also speed ticket and concession sales, said Marshall. It’s also designed to improve inventory management and allow for a new loyalty program, which will launch probably before the end of the year.

Marshall said she wasn’t sure how PayPass has been received by Cineplex customers to date, but anticipates that it will grow in popularity as RF technology becomes more commonplace throughout retail markets.

Cineplex currently serves about 64 million Canadian customers annually. “As the chips come into play, obviously (the user base) will expand over time,” she said.

MasterCard also has a project underway with PetroCanada. PayPass technology is being rolled out at PetroCanada locations in the Greater Toronto Area.

The service is generally recommended for transactions in the $25 range (so-called “micropayments”), said Devata, but there is no real upper limit since it’s essentially just another way of processing credit card payments.

MasterCard is deploying PayPass technology across the U.S. as well. Its early adopters include McDonald’s and 7-11.

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