Retail technology is so good that we are all lost when it fails.

Some kinds of technology become so important to us that we almost forget we are using them.


For example, every day, millions of us tap our bank cards (or phones, or watches) against contactless payment terminals to buy groceries, travel, coffee or a variety of other goods and services. 


Even those of us old enough to remember the introduction of Chip & Pin payments – which replaced actually signing a payment slip, like the dinosaurs did – instantly forgot about the old way of doing things after our first contactless transaction.


Online orders, next day delivery, click & collect… they are all fantastic. And when they stop working they leave both retailers and consumers utterly bereft. It is likely that this will happen increasingly often.


Retail Gazette: “Carpetright unable to trade after cyber attack.”


Carpetright reportedly suffered a cyberattack last week, a situation that any business would dread. It has taken down both in-store and online sales while damage is repaired. The chain lost days of trading as a result.


Forbes: “Retailers Are Being Barraged By Cyberattacks This Holiday Season.”


It transpires that retailers are constantly and repeatedly targeted by cyberattackers, meaning that this kind of issue is increasingly likely to threaten more retail brands.


The Guardian: “Sainsbury’s and Tesco resolve technical issues that disrupted deliveries.”


Even without cyberattacks, technical problems can happen. Only last month, two of the UK’s big supermarket chains suffered technical glitches that stopped scheduled deliveries of online orders.


IT staff at some retailers – and at banks, building societies, councils and many other organisations – will privately confess their fears that their flashy systems are built on foundations made of much older ‘legacy’ systems. As we all rely more and more heavily on these systems for payments and ordering, the likelihood of failure can only increase.


Is there a Plan B? We are all used to the stop gap measure of a handwritten sign telling us that only cash transactions can be accepted due to an IT failure, followed by shrugs from the majority of shoppers who no longer carry any cash. If they did, it is unlikely that the retailers would have the necessary coins to give change, or that many staff could even calculate the right amount. 


Some skills wither if they are not used. But when the technology fails, it is those retailers will a long memory and the ability to do things the old-fashioned ways that will keep on trading.

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