Its stores may not be as plush as an upscale hotel, but convenience-store giant 7-Eleven Inc. is solidifying its position as an innovator in the loyalty market.
  In early February, Alliance Data Systems Corp. announced that it had signed two agreements with 7-Eleven to provide stored-value and loyalty card programs. Alliance Data has signed a three-year agreement to provide a stored-value program for the new 7-Eleven Convenience Card, and the card processor has signed a six-year agreement to add reloadable capability to the Vcom check-cashing card, a 7-Eleven spokesperson says.
  The 7-Eleven Convenience Card, which can either fit in a person's wallet or on a key chain, was to become available last month at participating 7-Eleven stores, according to the spokesperson. The company operates 5,300 U.S. stores. The new card replaces the 7-Eleven/American Express Co. nonreloadable gift card.
  A customer can load a $5 minimum or a $500 maximum onto the magnetic-stripe Convenience Card. Customers will be able to use it for in-store purchases.
  "You can use the card to purchase anything in the store except a lottery ticket," the spokesperson says.
  7-Eleven eventually plans to convert it to a smart card, possibly with a Visa U.S.A. or MasterCard International brand, so customers can use it elsewhere. Jim Keyes, 7-Eleven's president and chief executive, came up with the idea for the card while observing 7-Eleven stores in Sweden, Singapore and Taiwan. The Dallas-based company last year tested the card at 220 stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area before deciding to roll it out nationally.
  "It saves customers a lot of time; we conducted races to see which one was faster, the card or cash," says the spokesperson, adding that the card also reduces 7-Eleven bank fees because store employees don't have to take cash to the bank.
  Dallas-based Alliance Data also will provide stored-value capability and unspecified loyalty programs for the Vcom check-cashing card, the 7-Eleven spokesperson says.
  Alliance is adding the capability as 7-Eleven installs more Vcoms in its stores. Some 400 stores currently have Vcom kiosks that provide automated teller machines, check cashing, money transfers and other services. 7-Eleven plans to install Vcoms in 600 additional stores by spring, when the card will be available. Certegy Inc., which provides Vcom's check-cashing services, approves a person's Vcom card application on a telephone connected to the Vcom, the spokesperson says. The companies did not release financial details.

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