Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 11 News List

President Chain to expand icash cards

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

When President Chain Store Corp (統一超商) launched its own e-wallet (electronic wallet), dubbed "icash," in November last year, many belittled the idea, saying it was unlikely that a payment method used only within its 7-Eleven network would be popular.

Many raised the question, "If the cards cannot be used across other retail channels, why would I want to put another plastic card in my wallet?"

In less than a year, however, over 2.04 million icash cards have been issued as of the end of last month, with 70 percent being "constantly used," the company said.

Further, President Chain expects to pump up the figure to three million by year's end, while planning to join hands with one or more banking institutions to turn the e-wallet into a credit card, said Jackie Su (蘇嘉麒), manager of the commodity department at President Chain.

Each icash card is sold for NT$100 (US$3.1) and a maximum stored value of NT$10,000 can be loaded on one card.

Riding on the back of the network's more than 3,800 convenience stores, the popularity of icash has grown faster than expected, making it the nation's second-largest e-wallet product, next only to the 5 million-strong EasyCards, distributed by Taipei Smart Card Corp (台北智慧卡票證公司) for payment in MRT stations, Taipei bus routes and public parking lots in the capital.

When the icash card was first introduced, the company highlighted the card's stylish appeal in order to attract fashion-conscious young people, especially female consumers. Its strategy has proven effective, as now students constitute the bulk of cardholders while women account for 40 percent, Su said. To provide more incentives, benefits of food and beverage discounts -- up to 20 percent off -- are offered for icash holders.

Now a strategic alliance has been formed with Warner Village Cinemas Co (華納威秀). Moviegoers flashing the icash card affiliated with the cinema chain can enjoy price cuts, although they cannot use the card to pay for tickets.

In addition to being user-friendly and offering discounts, around 90 different card patterns -- including famous author-illustrator Jimmy's (幾米) cartoons and glove-puppet figures -- have made their way into collectors' drawers.

President Chain last week announced that consumers can visit its Web site to order personalized icash cards, which will bear the photos they upload.

Icash's solid consumer base and the estimated NT$1 billion stored-value collected nationwide have lured many banking institutions to get a piece of the action.

"We'll work with whoever can provide the most resources and marketing capabilities," Su said.

With the possibility of issuing either mono- or multifunctional cards, President Chain hopes to ink the cooperation deal by the end of the year, expanding the territory of icash to retail channels outside 7-Eleven, Su said.

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