Shoppers Dismayed As Technical Problems Strike Target

Jun 17, 2019
Originally published on June 17, 2019 8:02 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People who work at Target have to be, starting this week, just hoping the cash registers work. Over the weekend, two consecutive days of technical issues left shoppers unable to purchase anything. Saturday has been dubbed The Great Target Outage of 2019 and, on Sunday, came more trouble with credit-card processing. NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to tell us what happened. Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So wow - I did not realize until this happened that all of Target's cash registers were so connected that one problem could shut them all down.

SELYUKH: Apparently so; that's what happened on Saturday. I want to start with the question that everyone keeps asking me - is it a security breach? We know that it is not and it was not. For both of those days, the company says it was the first concern, and it is not a security breach. Especially given Target's history of being the victim of one of the biggest security breaches in 2013, I just want to get that out of the way. But it was a pretty chaotic two days.

INSKEEP: What did this look like from the perspective of a shopper?

SELYUKH: Yes. Well, I actually happened to be one of those shoppers.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

SELYUKH: I was standing in line myself at a Washington, D.C., location, and I heard announcement like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED TARGET EMPLOYEE: Sorry for all the inconveniences, but all of the registers are down. Sorry for the inconvenience.

INSKEEP: It was good of you and very smart of you to start recording right away.

SELYUKH: (Laughter) Indeed. At first, it seemed to be something wrong with the registers at the stores, but - at this particular store. But actually, systems and registers were down everywhere nationwide. It became quite the scene. Strings of abandoned carts and baskets. In some locations, cashiers started processing orders manually for shoppers who happened to have cash.

INSKEEP: OK.

SELYUKH: People, of course, took to Twitter immediately. One person wrote - I want to quote this - "We are entrenched in aisle three."

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

SELYUKH: "Tensions are high. Ice cream is melting. They have provided us popcorn and green tea, but rations are fast diminishing. How I wish I had gone to Walmart." Registers finally came back online about two hours later. But then came Sunday and, again, glitches; this time with credit-card processing at some locations for an hour and a half.

INSKEEP: OK, so if this was not some kind of attack on Target, what was it?

SELYUKH: Apparently, two unrelated technical problems. One was with the vendor that does credit-card processing for retailers, including Target; that was Sunday. And on Saturday was Target's internal system, something like weekend system maintenance, perhaps. It's not - it's impossible to not flash back to the massive attack that Target did suffer in 2013, which is something Target wishes we could forget about. The breach affected more than 100 million Target shoppers...

INSKEEP: Wow.

SELYUKH: ...And cost the company more than $200 million in legal fees and settlements.

INSKEEP: OK, so that was then; this is now. What's the longer-term effect on Target of this one?

SELYUKH: Well, it's really, really bad PR. Let's not forget that this is a very competitive area, with the biggest rivals, Amazon and Walmart, constantly changing the rules of the game. What Target has is crazy brand loyalty. It's known for low prices for high design in clothes and housewares. But if you're someone who spent hours standing in line on a beautiful weekend day or, like me, three hours on what was supposed to be a quick run, that's not the kind of experience that instills loyalty.

Cost-wise, it's hard to say. Several hours' worth of people not shopping and instead complaining about the brand on social media could be at least tens of millions of dollars. But we'll see how this plays out long term.

INSKEEP: Alina, I'm glad you made it out of there safely.

SELYUKH: (Laughter) Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Alina Selyukh, who was at Target when the cash registers went down over the weekend.

Now, we should note that Target is one of NPR's financial sponsors.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.