Mac’s Convenience adds Wi-Fi access to 34 stores

The fourth-largest convenience chain in North America is expanding the Internet service it offers in some of its stores in Western Canada by turning kiosks into Wi-Fi access hubs.

Couche-Tard on Thursday said it would be rolling out the Wi-Fi service to 34 Mac’s Convenience Stores in Vancouver through a partnership with software provider Info Touch and wireless ISP FatPort. Monthly Wi-Fi service will cost $34.95 and daily use will cost $9.95. ZapLink kiosks in the stores will be the gateways for the Wi-Fi network, while also providing a place for bill payment, maps and prepaid mobile content. Info Touch’s Surfnet Premiere software will manage the kiosks, where users will also be able to access support services.

Ron Thompson, Mac’s Convenience Stores’ marketing manager, said the 34 stores had already been offering Web access for the last five years through the kiosks from a previous partnership with Info Touch.

“”It’s kind of a quasi-Internet cafe, I guess,”” he said. “”One of the hindrances we’ve had was just the capital investment to keep it moving. We’ve been partnering with InfoTouch to try to move it forward a little bit quicker.””

Info Touch chairman and CEO Hamed Shahbazi said the up front costs for the deployment of the kiosks and Wi-Fi network could run anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, depending on the applications being offered.

“”This is a new model,”” he said. “”(Mac’s) understands that innovation takes time. I think both companies are committed to doing what it takes to deploy once there’s a real replicable business model in place.””

Thompson said Mac’s is exploring onscreen advertising through the kiosks as well as a screen above its checkout, which may also be used as a sort of public bulletin board to advertise community events.

“”Our objective would be all our stores in Western Canada would have this service,”” he said. “”We’ve been working towards that, and it’s been an evolving thing.””

Shahbazi said Wi-Fi and Internet access is a natural fit for convenience stores, which often enjoy high-traffic locations at the best lots and the busiest streets. Mac’s, he said, understands particularly well how to market wireless as a service offering.

“”Mac’s has a seating area in all the stores. It’s not the traditional convenience store play where they want you in and out. This is positive loitering — they’ve got couches, and they’ve made it a very nice environment.””

Thompson said Wi-Fi will soon become a trend in the convenience industry, even if Mac’s is the first to offer it in Canada.

“”How many people had cell phones 10 years ago?”” he said. “”I think it will be an expected service within the next two or three years, the way technology’s going. I’m already trying to figure out how to get my PDA to work with it.””

Info Touch is providing similar services for several U.S. clients, including Circle K and ExxonMobil, Shahbazi said.

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