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    Sheetz Tests Cash Acceptors at Pump

    Company may soon roll out program at all 280 Northeastern stores

    ALTOONA, Pa. -- It could be the next great advance since pay at the pump rolled out.

    Sheetz Inc. is testing a system that will let customers buy gasoline with cash without having to set food inside the stores.

    Although almost three-quarters of U.S. convenience stores use some form of pay-at-the-pump technology according to the 2002 NACS/CSNews Industry Report, virtually all acceptors require some form of credit or debit card.

    Giving people without credit cards a chance to use the pay-at-the-pump option is somewhat different, Sheetz spokeswoman Amy Hanna told the Northeastern Pennsylvania Newswire.

    "It's great for mothers who want to pay cash but don't want to take their children out of the child seat to go to the store," Hanna said. The 280-unit operation is installing machines designed by Denver-based Gary-Williams Retail Solutions.

    The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) estimates that two-thirds of all in-store transactions are done with cash, yet fewer than one percent of pump payment systems accept bills.

    When Mobil first introduced pay at the pump 15 years ago, many retailers feared enabling consumers to buy gasoline without entering the store would hurt in-store sales and profits.

    Yet in most cases, the opposite has proven true -- gas-only customers stay out of stores, making lines shorter and service better for customers interested in shopping or buying food.

    Sheetz is counting on the new machines to further enhance pump sales and curb drive-offs by availing patrons another form of payment -- with the system, customers must pay in advance using either cash or credit.

    The company, Hanna explained, will test the system for a few months before considering chainwide expansion. Sheetz operates stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

    "We want to work out any kinks, see how it works," she said.

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