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    7-Eleven Promotes Online Shopping

    The newest way to shop online uses one of the oldest payment methods: cash.

    DALLAS -- 7-Eleven Inc., which is testing interactive kiosks at nearly 100 stores, plans to allow those kiosks to accept cash for online purchases later this year. Meanwhile, the company will roll out its Vcom kiosks to all 5,800 7-Eleven locations in the United States during the next 18 months.

    "This broadens e-commerce into the unwired, the unbanked, and people not comfortable using credit cards online," Brady Giddons, 7-Eleven's director of business development for the kiosks, told CNET News.com.

    But consumers may have to pay for the convenience as 7-Eleven considers charging a transaction fee on orders placed through its Vcom kiosks. And they won't see the same selection they would find on a regular Internet-connected PC: 7-Eleven plans to limit the number of merchants and items offered on its kiosks.

    Credit cards have been the predominant payment form on the Web since the beginning of e-commerce because they offer an instant way for consumers and businesses to transact. But the process ignores the millions of consumers who do not carry credit cards, as well as those not comfortable sharing credit card information online because of security concerns.

    7-Eleven's move may be the biggest effort yet to challenge credit cards' preeminence. The company estimates that 100 million U.S. consumers don't have credit cards, and some 37 million don't even have a basic bank account. Meanwhile, about half of 7-Eleven's customers don't have credit cards, said Pat Lally, chief executive of Cyphermint, whose Pay Cash system will allow the Vcom kiosks to accept cash.

    7-Eleven will have about 10 to 15 merchants offering products through the kiosks, Giddons told the online news organization. And each merchant will only offer their top 10 or so products. The idea is that customers will be able to use the machines quickly so that other customers can conduct transactions, Giddons said.

    "It's important for us to keep the transaction times small, very brief," he said. "We want to create an environment where they can make an easy decision. We don't want people to be able to surf around or read an excerpt of a book."

    7-Eleven began testing its Vcom kiosks in Texas in late 2000. The company expanded its test to Florida last summer. The Vcom machines offer ATM services and allow customers to cash checks, buy money orders, and transfer money. Through a deal 7-Eleven has with Verizon Communications, customers will be able to view and pay their Verizon phone bills through the kiosks later this year.

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