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Target down

June 16, 2019 By David Dorf

It’s every chain retailer’s nightmare. Inoperable point-of-sale registers chainwide with frustrated customers leaving their carts and exiting the store. Saturday afternoon something went wrong at Target and registers stopped worked properly. First and foremost, many reports say the Target employees kept their cool and genuinely tried to help customers. Twitter had reports of employees handing out coupons, snacks, and free Starbucks.

Speaking of Starbucks, something similar happened to them back on April 24, 2015 when a system refresh went wrong and caused 94% of their North American store register to cease ringing transactions. Estimates at the time claim it cost the chain around $3M in sales. But it was also an opportunity to demonstrate excellent customer service in the face of adversity. I don’t think Starbucks was really harmed overall and may have even impressed customers.

It’s the main reason some retailers are nervous about cloud-based POS solutions. If something catastrophic goes wrong in the cloud, it could impact all the stores and halt sales like what happened to Target. While we don’t yet know why the Targets are down, its clearly something systemwide across the entire chain. (My early guess is that the network is fine, and this is caused by a configuration or data issue. After about 2 hours, it appears to have been fixed.)

There’s no need to panic and revolt against cloud solutions altogether. For a critical system like POS, retailers need a hybrid cloud architecture. That is, a solution that can be disconnected from the cloud and still operate “on an island.” To achieve this, the in-store systems must cache product information like barcodes and prices. Then transactions can still be rung up while offline.

Of course usually when a store is offline, its ability to process credit cards is also impacted. There are floor-limits to automatically approve smaller amounts, and retailers can use the phone to perform manual approvals.

But in many cases, large retailers will have a secondary network, like the cell phone network, that can be used when the main network connection is severed. But these days, at least in North America, networks are pretty darn reliable.

As a former retailer that hated receiving emergency calls on the weekend, I certainly hope this issue gets resolved quickly. And I certainly hope customers have no malice toward Target. Just go back tomorrow and make your purchases!

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