Target says check-out delays related to defect with network device

  • Article by: KAVITA KUMAR , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2014 - 6:14 AM

Nationwide check-out delays Sunday night came at a bad moment for retailer.

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A customer waiting in line held a $3-off coupon and the water she was purchasing at the downtown Minneapolis Target store Sunday night.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com,

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Target Corp. said Monday that the “glitch” that slowed many of its check-out registers to a crawl Sunday night was related to a defect with a network device.

The Minneapolis-based retailer didn’t provide more details about the problem, noting that the issue was resolved by about 11 p.m. Sunday. The company also reiterated there was no evidence that it had anything to do with a cyberattack.

The malfunction lasted a few hours but affected stores nationwide — some more so than others. Many shoppers who were stuck in long check-out lines expressed their annoyance on social media.

The register problems immediately brought back memories of Target’s massive data breach late last year, which the Minneapolis-based retailer has been trying hard to move beyond as it rolls out security upgrades and leadership changes.

“As a single incident, I don’t see it as that big of a deal,” said Carol Spieckerman, president of retail consulting firm Newmarketbuilders. “But boy, it’s pretty bad timing. And it once again creates the impression that Target is scrambling.”

Spieckerman noted that the retailer probably lost some business Sunday night from customers who abandoned their shopping carts. And some people might have turned around when employees warned them about the issue as they entered a store.

But on a positive note for Target, Spieckerman said, the store traffic was probably a bit lighter than an average Sunday night since it was Father’s Day. And, she added, she didn’t see any long-term ramifications from this incident on ­shoppers’ loyalty.

“This was more of an inconvenience,” she said. “I don’t think word is going to get out and it’s going to steamroll like it did with the data breach. That was when people felt they were personally at risk.”

Employees at various stores also tried to smooth over any shopper frustrations by handing out $3-off coupons, cookies, Starbucks drinks and other freebies.

“Once again, we sincerely apologize to anyone inconvenienced by this issue,” Target said in a statement.

Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst with Gartner Research, said banks have dealt with similar hiccups on their websites. The problem usually involves a vendor’s software that is related to a recent upgrade, she said. But people often immediately suspect a cyberattack.

“When they were waiting in line, everybody must have been thinking about the breach, I’m sure — especially the management of Target,” Litan said.

But she said these network problems are rarely the result of a hacker. “When criminals write their malware that steals the credit card information, they’re very careful to have it operational for just a few minutes so they don’t bog down the network,” she said.

From late November until mid-December, Target’s computer systems were compromised and tens of millions of customers’ personal and financial data was stolen.

Since then, Target has been working to regain the trust of shoppers. It has stepped up promotions and accelerated its efforts to issue Redcards with more secure chip-and-PIN technology.

During its first-quarter conference call last month, Target executives said traffic and sales have improved since the breach, and that recent surveys showed that most of those customers who had changed their shopping habits had come back to Target at least once by the end of the first quarter.

Analysts are hopeful that the retailer will soon be able to move beyond this and other distractions.

“I hope this is the last of it, for Target’s sake, so they can start creating their own spin — their own buzz about where they are going next — rather than having their message hijacked by these unfortunate events,” Spieckerman said.

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