Cashless society plan for Blanchardstown

 

Blanchardstown is to try to succeed this week where the Information Age Town of Ennis failed - by becoming the State's first cashless society.

Thousands of shoppers at the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre will be issued with smart cards from tomorrow on which they will be able to make purchases worth up to £250 without any fumbling in pockets for money or pens for name-signing.

The Citrus card, described as Ireland's first multi-application smart card, also features a loyalty scheme whereby customers earn credits that will go towards a Rehab Lottery prize draw at the end of each month.

National Irish Bank, which is behind the initiative, hopes to have at least 50,000 regular card users by next year.

Mr Michael McCormick, sales and service manager at the bank's smart card division, said it had learnt "an awful lot" from Ennis in Co Clare. The town was flooded with the electronically-chipped plastic gadgets under a £4 million Eircom initiative 18 months ago - only to find hardly anyone used them.

"The experience of retailers there was that there was no backup, and they felt isolated. We will have people supporting retailers and customers, making sure they're comfortable with the technology," he said.

Shoppers will be able to credit sums of money to their cards at cashless Automatic Telling Machines, called Value Load Terminals, located at each entrance to the shopping centre. The machines will cater for accountholders at a variety of banks and building societies.

Cardholders can also "load" cash over the phone and any unused credit can be later down loaded back to their accounts.

More than half of Blanchardstown's main retailers, including Dunnes Stores, Boots, Bewley's and Easons, have already signed up to the scheme, which represents a £6 million investment by NIB. Each has been provided with point-of sale devices which register purchases and issue receipts.

As the cards are capable of more than one application, they can be adapted in the future to cater for euro transactions and carry out credit card or laser functions.

Despite the obvious advantages of the cards, however, history is against them. Previous trials in creating cashless societies at Swindon in England, Ontario in Canada, and Manhattan in New York all ended in failure.

Limited success was recorded in experiments at university campuses and military bases in the United States. However, even they fell short of expectations, mainly because the cards had too narrow a range of applications and could not be used on items such as telephones, parking meters and transit systems.

Mr McCormick said he believed the loyalty scheme would help Citrus to succeed where other cards had failed. Hopes are also being pinned on Blanchardstown's electronically-minded clientele being open to the initiative.

"It's the perfect place to launch this product with a catchment area taking in people from Intel, IBM, and so on, who will relish and appreciate the technology."