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Welcome Break speeds up payments transactions

Caroline Baldwin

Welcome Break has upgraded its entire payments system to improve the speed of services to customers and streamline end-of-day management transactions.

The UK motorway service provider has implemented a unified payments system from Vodat International to 29 of its sites across the UK.

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Welcome break has seen massive improvements to the transaction speed at the point of sale, which has significantly cut the queuing times for customers at its partner retailers including Waitrose, KFC and Starbucks.

Before implementing the unified payments system, the cashier would have to enter the amount to be paid by card manually through the EPoS till, then go to the bank terminal – effectively entering the information twice – and the bank terminal then used a phone line that was very slow.

“It was incredibly slow compared to where we are now,” says David Willock, IT director at Welcome Break. “During peak periods there were enormous queues and it was impacting our throughput capacity - some customers would drop off or not join a very large queue to begin with.”

Wilock says the speed of transactions now meet the normal expectation shoppers have when they are paying for items on the high street. “They expect to put a card in and for the authorisation to happen immediately.

Welcome Break’s Wi-Fi offering

Welcome Break has a sophisticated Wi-Fi offering which it first rolled out in 2010. It worked with BT to introduce connectivity for its customers which include coach drivers, lorry drivers, families, bus-loads of tourists, “Everyone has slightly different needs,” said Willock.

Welcome Break offers its service for free, and sees millions of minutes of usage across its estate every week.

In 2013 it introduced a registration system so the company could carefully learn more about its customers in order to market to them. Currently, because not very much information is taken at registration, everything is marketed to customers, but Willock says it would be more beneficial to know more about the customer so those who had previously bought coffee could be marketed with a Starbucks.

Over the years, it has seen customers dwell time on the network increase to around 20-30 minutes. Welcome Break also offers a hotel business where customers log in free and Willock says there is enough bandwidth to stream video content.

“Customers want that, and it’s no longer seen as a perk, but a necessity,” says Willock. “We need to ensure the capacity keeps pace with the growth of usage, customers now have more mobile devices and heavier applications.”

The integrated solution also means all transactions are settled accurately within the system, resulting in time saved automating, which used to be a process conducted by management staff at the end of the day. The system also reduces human error, where previously cashiers would manually enter the amount to be debited into the terminal.

The Vodat solution was created bespoke for Welcome Break and took two years of development, testing and trialling.

Willock says the supporting security and PCI compliance was of “utmost importance”. He said customer card data is not held in the EPoS system, therefore costly EPoS development was avoided during the upgrade. Instead, card data is stored in one secure location, fully meeting the requirements of PCI compliance.

Contactless payments

While overhauling the payments system, Welcome Break discovered it would cost an “awful lot more” to include contactless when replacing its chip and pin terminals, as it wasn’t available in the Verifone terminals it wished to install.

Willock says the company had to decide whether to delay the roll-out of a much faster payment process to allow contactless to mature, but Welcome Break decided its clear business priority was to speed up transactions and reconciliation as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of hype and publicity about how contactless is growing,” Willock says. “It’s even faster than our new authorisation, but it’s still only a very small percentage of transactions [that are contactless].”

Willock says it was a decision of cost versus business case to roll out contactless to all sites, and the case isn’t there yet, not that it wouldn’t be in the future for Welcome Break.

Welcome Break has tried contactless in a small number of its drive-through units, where it feels the benefits of speed and ease-of-use outweighed the business case.

“This helped us understand contactless,” he says.

Mobile customers

Willock says Welcome Break is currently looking for partners to work on mobile discounting across its sites.

Currently, Welcome Break’s payment solutions in its franchise partners, such as Starbucks, run on a different system to the coffee shop on the high street. While Starbucks has been forward thinking about its customer, offering a loyalty top-up card and even a mobile wallet application, customers who buy a coffee from a Welcome Break Starbucks don’t have the same experience at the point of sale.

“When you walk into a Welcome Break, you don’t differentiate from another Starbucks,” says Willock. “And customers want to be able to use their Starbucks card and get frustrated when they can’t."

He is currently looking at how the company can support the Starbucks card and also Waitrose’s new My Waitrose card, so customers don’t see a difference in the service they receive. He hopes that later this year customers will be able to use a Starbucks card, while conversations with Waitrose are not as far along because the Waitrose concept is not as mature.

“We’re forward thinking with these things, but we have to try to understand what the real priorities are and matching that to the funding.”


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