Target stores in Minnesota and across the nation were effectively paralyzed for several hours Saturday when a system malfunction left frustrated customers unable to make purchases.

Displaying varying degrees of patience, Minnesotans making their weekend Target runs waited in long lines through the afternoon, many of them toting Father’s Day cards and gifts for Sunday celebrations, as cashiers painstakingly typed in bar code numbers because price scanners weren’t working. At many stores, abandoned carts full of merchandise jammed areas near the exits, left by customers whose time or tempers ran short.

A flood of complaints began flowing on social media platforms just before 1 p.m., with the Minneapolis-based retailer issuing no immediate explanation and later responding only that it was aware of the situation. A little more than three hours later, the company announced that the registers were back online and that checkout lines were moving again.

“The temporary outage earlier today was the result of an internal technology issue that lasted for approximately two hours,” said Target spokeswoman Katie Boylan. “Our technology team worked quickly to identify and fix the issue, and we apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this caused for our guests.”

The company emphasized that it wasn’t hacked and said the problems affected only its stores, not target.com.

But even after Boylan issued her statement, customers at some stores, including the Edina Target, said they were still seeing problems. At 4:30 p.m., Kelley Clawson of Minneapolis was stuck in a self-checkout line at the Edina store with about a dozen other people.

“These are crazy long lines,” said Clawson, who was on what she thought would be a quick break from her nearby job. “I didn’t expect to take a half-hour in line.”

The Edina store finally got back up to speed just before 5 p.m., customers said.

Boylan said later that the pace of problems and fixes varied across stores.

“Technology fixes of this nature tend to roll out over nearly 1,900 stores at a gradual pace,” she said. “We saw different things across the country, different reports, different fixes … over time. It’s hard to have specific sweeping answers about what exactly this looks like.”

Boylan said the company has made “an initial, but thorough review [and] can confirm that this was not a data breach or a security-related issue, and no guest information was compromised at any time.”

A smudged image

The system failure during peak hours on Father’s Day weekend meant not only lost sales but a new blemish for a company that has tried customers’ understanding on other occasions in recent years.

In June 2014, Target blamed a defect with a network device for a problem with its point-of-sale systems. In that case, the problem happened on a Sunday evening and was resolved within hours.

In 2017, it agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle claims by 47 states and Washington, D.C., and end an investigation into a major data breach that happened in 2013. In that case, hackers accessed Target’s gateway server through credentials stolen from a third-party vendor.

Outage in major cities

The website downdetector.com showed reports of Saturday’s outage in major cities, including the Twin Cities, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Baltimore. The reports began spiking around midday.

Danielle Wilson’s Twitter post summed up the thoughts of many frustrated shoppers: “Nothing like loading up your @Target cart on a SATURDAY for them to announce that ALL registers are down (an hour now) My veggies are melting apparently it’s a global issue. Is it the Apocalypse?!?!”

At the downtown Minneapolis store, employees at the door told customers they were welcome to shop but warned them of long lines because of the checkout delays. Most shoppers looked patiently resigned as they waited to buy cards, pop, toothpaste and other items as the line of about 50 people inched forward.

“I thought the self-checkout would be quick, but it doesn’t look like it,” said Margaret Wainwright of Minneapolis.

Some stores, including Minneapolis’ and Richfield’s, were able to complete sales as employees manually worked through issues at the registers. Employees at the stores tried to placate shoppers with free Starbucks and popcorn.

At the downtown store, cashier Jodi Chu of Minneapolis was smiling, even though it was only her second day at Target and her first time working a cash register. Occasionally a product could be scanned successfully, but most attempts brought up error messages. For those, she had to enter prices, tax and other information manually.

“I got really good training,” Chu said.

Trevor Nelson of Lake Elmo, who works for a concert promoter that was presenting a show at the Armory on Saturday night, had been dispatched to buy bottles of juice and other refreshments requested by the band. Target, with its parking ramp and adjacent liquor store, had seemed a convenient place to get everything.

“This is — this was — going to be the perfect stop,” Nelson said, wondering if he’d still get free parking in the ramp if he wasn’t able to make the $20 minimum purchase.

About half an hour later, having inched his way 20 feet closer in line, Nelson heard that customers who’d made it to the registers were getting parking passes as well as $5 gift cards.

“Woo-hoo,” he said with a touch of sarcasm. “This is my lucky day.”

 

Staff writer Suzanne Ziegler contributed to this report.