How well did Target handle its no good, very bad weekend?

Photo: RetailWire
Jun 17, 2019
George Anderson

It may not rise to the level of bad publicity that resulted when millions of customers had their personal information hacked in 2013, but the technical problems experienced at Target stores this weekend put the chain in the news for all the wrong reasons.

On Saturday, “an internal technology issue” caused long lines at Target stores and customers wasted no time going on social media sites to post their unhappiness with the situation. The outage, which Target said was not the result of a security issue, took registers down in stores across the country for a couple of hours before being resolved.

Upon discovering the problem, stores began positioning associates at entrances to inform customers of the situation. The checkout outage did not affect purchases made on and stores were able to fulfill orders placed online for store pickup.   

Yesterday, due to a second technical glitch, Target’s stores were unable to process credit and debit card payments for about 90 minutes. This issue, Target reported, was set off by a problem at one of vendor NCR’s data centers. The chain said the issue was, once again, not security related.

“We know many guests had a frustrating shopping experience in our stores this weekend,” a Target spokesperson said. “For that, we are truly sorry. We never want to disappoint any guests and we’re working tirelessly to ensure these issues don’t happen again.”

A customer at a Target in Phoenix told The New York Times that people inconvenienced by the outage on Sunday were given $10 off their orders by the stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the checkout outages at Target over the weekend have any lasting effects on how customers view the retailer? Do you think Target responded appropriately to the technical issues it encountered?

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25 Comments on "How well did Target handle its no good, very bad weekend?"

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Paula Rosenblum

I don’t see any lasting problems from the outage. In fact, if management had done a better job managing the aftermath of the big data breach, the company would have suffered few ill effects from that one as well. But it was not cool to arbitrarily place limits on its own branded debit cards, without informing customers — in the middle of the holiday season no less.

I think the company did fine and, heaven knows, it wasn’t the worst time in the world for this to happen.

Lee Kent

My added comment to this is simply that we are all much more tech savvy these days and we understand stuff happens with technology. We don’t like it and it frustrates us but we get it. Yes, we get mad and post our discontent anywhere people will listen but do we never come back? Not likely! Not if we like the brand. Just don’t let it happen too often. For my 2 cents.

Neil Saunders

From what I have heard and seen, Target handled the outage well and did all that it could to help customers and ease any problems. It is inevitable that Target has lost trade, but if this is an isolated incident I don’t see it having any lasting impact.

That said, I wonder how deep these problems run. Over the past couple of months, I have experienced, and have seen others experience, quite a few issues with self-checkout at Target. These include Target Circle details not being recognized, long loading times after scanning a product, and systems freezing temporarily when payment is being made. These might be unrelated incidents, but if not then it suggests there are wider issues with Target’s systems.

Shawn Harris

This event will have a short shelf life. Outages unfortunately happen, though retailers do all they can to mitigate them. From what I have read, from offering water to discounts, it sounds like store staff stepped up.

Dave Wendland

It is unlikely that those faithful to Target will find the outages at Target to be deterrent to their loyalty.

Although frustrating and undoubtedly challenging, there are larger questions that I believe demand answers: Does over-reliance on technology and “magic” that happens behind the scenes or data that is stored in the mysterious cloud put customers on their heels? Will they become increasingly suspicious of automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced data mining? Do consumers feel that retailers, such as Target, are telling the truth about cybersecurity when such technology disruptions occur?

Ultimately, retail is still about relationships and the human touch. No machine can replace sincere and polite interactions with real people at retail. The best way for Target (and other retailers who will undoubtedly experience similar technology challenges) to handle this is by putting associates out front … and that’s exactly what they did.

David Weinand

There shouldn’t be any lasting effects from the outage. The general public has a short memory and this will pass. I do wonder, however, how this will affect their relationship and future plans with their current POS vendor. This was definitely a loss of revenue for Target and POS technology shouldn’t be going down in the middle of a busy weekend.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

That was my thought exactly! Glad I am not in NCRs position, given the outage was on their watch.

Shep Hyken

This “isolated” weekend issue doesn’t happen every weekend – or even on the week days. The public is forgiving about these types of things, unless they happen again and again. Target was smart to handle the situation the way they did. They warned customers coming in. They were transparent and honest. Customers like that – even with the slight inconvenience. Little impact short term, and no impact long term.

David Dorf

Yes, this will change the way customers view Target — in a good way. While people were certainly inconvenienced, how the staff handles the situation is what makes or breaks the brand. In this case, similar to how Starbucks handled a similar incident in 2015, Target employees rose to the occassion and did their best to take care of “guests.” That’s what people will remember.

Georganne Bender

I was actually in our local Target with a cart full of product when the outage happened. I’m sure the people in the corporate offices were stressed, but the store’s team seemed to handle it well. The store made frequent announcements explaining what was going on and offered complimentary popcorn and drinks from Starbucks. There was a party going on in the Target cafe among the commiserating shoppers.

The outage brought contingency plans to mind – what do you do when your registers don’t work? Target associates appeared to have had some training in this area. We asked the contingency plan question on our KIZER & BENDER Facebook page and got lots of creative answers from retailers.

I don’t think the outrage will have a lasting effect on Target. I stopped in yesterday to talk with associates about their adventures on Saturday. The store was packed. People love them some Target.

Oliver Guy

I saw this on social media, even on this side of the Atlantic. News like this travels fast and anyone in retail tech will be looking to see the vendors involved. Having a clear workable policy of how to handle this and ensuring store managers know it is essential.

As more systems and complexity are added to retail – both online and in-store – this type of problem may increase – plus coverage via live social media may make it more “known.”

What I do find fascinating is retailers who are utilizing open source technology with little, if any, vendor support to enable critical retail operations. Given the potential cost of failure in terms of lost sales and PR I find this astonishing.

Zach Zalowitz

I can’t imagine this has a lasting effect. They did the right thing getting associates to the front door to explain what was going on.

I’ve personally lived through this from an OMS standpoint (not POS) and it’s no fun at all. The lesson learned back then, as in now with Target’s issues, is that they come back stronger and more secure having gone through this.

Rich Kizer

I don’t think there will be any long term customer rantings. Target did what they could do. Sure there was discomfort and agitation at the point of the problem, but that will fade. If there is a lesson here, it is that every company should have a plan for almost any disaster that could happen, with pre-planned actions taken with immediacy and professionalism.

Michael Decker
Michael Decker
Vice President, Marketing Strategy
11 months 10 days ago

Nice to see a retailer that actually learned something from a previous fail. Target clearly had and implemented a disaster plan that was already in place to counter the situation. Reaction time was very fast across the network (especially given its weekend occurrence). Target is a big system and getting consistent, productive, customer sensitive instructions to every store like they did is no easy task. Activating greeters to inform customers outside of the store utilizing BOPIS strategy to help solve the problem was brilliant as it also introduces the service to customers who would never otherwise be exposed. $10 off and honestly admitting the problem and apologizing via the press quells social media grumblings. Episode over. No negative impact. Kudos to the Target management and in-store team for a job well done!

Lauren Goldberg

Considering they were able to bounce back from a massive data breach, I think they will be just fine. As I saw this unfolding on social media, I kept thinking about contingency plans and how to be prepared when technology inevitably fails. Seems like the front line employees did a good job in mitigating a poor customer experience, but what can retail tech vendors and teams do to put backup plans in place?

David Naumann
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
11 months 10 days ago

Target has a loyal customer base that will quickly forget about the glitches. It sounds like even those that experienced the problem in person at the stores were accommodated nicely by the staff and in some cases the customers bonded together in the drama. Target was quick to respond to the customers affected and mitigated the impact of the issues.

The bigger issue is identifying the underlying issue and fixing it to prevent future disruptions. This is also a warning sign for other retailers to develop contingency plans for outages like this. Problems happen and how you respond is a reflection on your brand.

Dick Seesel

I agree that consumers will forget this incident quickly, but it’s a good object lesson for Target (and other retailers) on how to handle customers effectively in every location when a system failure happens.

Ricardo Belmar

Target handled this well, and it’s a stark contrast to their handling of the infamous security breach. Store staff appears to have been well equipped to handle the situation, and if there wasn’t a common “emergency plan” in place kudos to store managers who must have quickly stepped up and mobilized their associates to reassure shoppers. Providing drinks, popcorn, discounts, etc. are all appropriate methods for Target to have used to appease shoppers at this time. Most shoppers will likely remember this as a blip and it won’t have a lasting impact on the brand relationship. A more interesting question is what conversation will Target have with their POS supplier over these incidents and how the supplier will handle it. That is something other retailers will surely be interested in!

James Tenser

Looks like the 90-minute POS breakdown adds up to a short-lived embarrassment for Target. A bummer for Saturday shoppers who arrived at the wrong time, but the damage was contained, and the publicity seems to be fading already.

Cynthia Holcomb

No, customers will get over it. The Target promise is too compelling. Conversely, customers who missed the outage will be happy they went to the beach. Target associates and management did a good job of handling a retail nightmare.

Paco Underhill

How did Argentina handle the country’s power system going down? Crisis management well done fosters sympathy. Beyond the people at the register and staff facing them — the media coverage was generally positive. No one died. But it does point out our tech vulnerability. It could be so much worse — look at Argentina….

Craig Sundstrom

I’m going to be I think, somewhat contrarian here. We’re asking the wrong question with “how did they react?” The real question is “why is there always something to react to?”

Now of course it may be true that Target has no greater/more tech problems than other retailers, but having been the subject of highly publicized one a few years ago, I don’t think that’s the perception (it’s not mine … or at least I’m skeptical). A retailer in such a situation needs to be “better than good” in not having problems in the first place, and unfortunately I don’t think Target is making the grade.

Bill Hanifin

The expectations of consumers are skyrocketing. If only each of us were as perfect in executing our daily work as we expect our favorite retailers, both online and offline, to be.

I’m not offering excuses for Target but suggesting that when technical and system problems occur, that retailers have a plan in place to address it with their valued customers. Having associates at the door to advise people what’s happening and offering a bounce back certificate are good ideas to keep people calm.

The challenge is in managing social commentary and negative feedback in social channels. Too many people instantly become cyber-bullies towards brands expecting to receive something in return. But, even though criticism can be unreasonable, brands have to keep an imaginary “smile on their face” and respond with practical responses.

Target did well to get through its situation as best it could.

Kenneth Leung

Technology glitches happen, as long as they don’t happen too often. Looks like the human process worked in terms of communicating with the customers, handing out free popcorn and closing stores when it is obvious they can’t process transactions. Would hate to be in POS vendors shoes right now. I am rather than surprised at the scale of the outage and that the system can’t go “offline” mode and approve transactions less than a certain amount, just to clear the store. From my point of sale systems days, that was the “limp mode” approach to transactions when the system goes down.

Balasubramanian Thiagarajan

The lasting impact, in my opinion, will not be on the customers but rather on the Target (and probably other retailers’) non-tech team. They had to scramble (and they did an admirable job) to ensure that the “pain” was kept to a minimum. I ‘m afraid this might make selling technology innovations to retail businesses all the more difficult (as though it already is not).


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