Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. Inc., one of the only local retailers to let customers pay with a touch of the finger, has had to stop offering the service in its checkout lines after the firm that owned the technology failed.

Pay By Touch, which used fingerprint verification software to approve electronic financial transactions, went dead at Piggly Wiggly stores and other merchants around the country late March 19.

In a statement, Pay By Touch blamed "economic conditions and a change in strategic directions."

Pay By Touch was owned by San Francisco-based Solidus Networks Inc., which processed its first so-called biometric payment in 2002. The company filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 14.

Solidus Networks said that as part of its restructuring, it "could no longer support the biometric authentication and payment system as it currently exists, based on lack of funding and current market conditions."

Charleston-based Piggly Wiggly Carolina, which owns about 115 supermarkets in the Carolinas and Georgia, began to roll out Pay By Touch in 2004. David Schools, chief executive officer of the grocery chain, said the technology "had a core following" among customers.

"It was growing slowly once the initial push was over," Schools said Tuesday. "Those people who used it were loyal to it."

Schools said Pay By Touch seems to have stumbled after its owner tried to expand too quickly into other areas instead of focusing on its payment-processing business.

Piggly Wiggly said the Pay By Touch devices will be disposed of properly and no personal information will be shared or sold. Solidus said it "is committed to maintaining the security of consumer and financial data."

Avivah Litan, vice president and analyst at information-technology consultant Gartner Inc., said the Pay By Touch service was never promoted adequately to consumers, creating a "chicken and egg problem."

"In theory, it should've taken off because there was a good value for the retailer," Litan said.

The processing fees, for example, were less than what Visa and Mastercard charge for credit or debit card transactions, she said.

"But they couldn't get the chicken and egg problem solved," she said.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572 or jmcdermott@ postandcourier.com.