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Tech Viewpoint: Target’s POS outage — two wrongs and a right

Looking back on the POS outage that paralyzed Target stores nationwide on June 15, it seems the discounter got two things wrong, but one big thing right.

In the spirit of fairness, let’s start with one aspect of Target’s real-time response that was quite impressive.

The human factor
A review of numerous tweets made with the hashtag #TargetOutage during the POS failure, which lasted about two hours the afternoon of Saturday, June 15, makes it clear that Target store associates and managers handled a difficult situation with and diplomacy and tact.

For example, a tweet from @anotherhalfpls stated “Cheers to the @Target staff who handled this situation with grace and courtesy.” Several customers also tweeted their appreciation for Target providing free Starbucks coffee (many Target locations have an in-store franchised Starbucks outlet) during the outage. One tweet from @seawolfyuki should make Target corporate leadership especially happy – “It was a (deleted) tea party in there! Walmart could never!”

This speaks extremely well of Target’s recruitment and training processes for store personnel. No matter how advanced a technology solution is, ultimately it will only work as well as the people tasked with deploying it. And when technology fails, as technology inevitably does, people must be willing and able to step in. Other retailers should follow Target’s example of not ignoring the importance of store associates in the digital age.

Communication breakdown
Target released a brief, real-time statement regarding the outage via social media and on its corporate website. While the statement served the important purpose of notifying the public there was no security breach and customer data was secure, it did not provide any real insight into what was actually happening.

In the days since the outage, Target has not shed much more light on the incident. CEO Brian Cornell issued a public apology on CNBC, but did not go into detail about what the discounter is calling an “internal technology issue.” While nobody expects Target to reveal the innermost workings of its IT systems, customers deserve at least a basic explanation of why registers went down – and what Target is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A CRM opportunity missed
As mentioned above, Target store personnel did a masterful job of appeasing inconvenienced shoppers. But senior management missed a great opportunity to seize a CRM moment.

Store managers could have been directed to obtain the names and mobile numbers of every adult shopper in the store when the registers went down, as well as anyone holding a Target REDcard or enrolled in the Target Circle loyalty program. All those shoppers could have been sent some type of small text-based discount for their next visit, with extra rewards for REDcard or Circle participants.

This would involve a fair amount of upfront effort and cost. But by drawing shoppers back to the store and generating customer goodwill, Target would boost longer-term store traffic and revenue, and maybe even save some customers that otherwise might be lost due to the outage.
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