Computer System Outage Affects Stores’ Point-of-Sale

November 16, 2013

A glitch somewhere along the complicated network that comprises Apple’s retail store computer network forced employees to hand process credit card  purchases over two days, and also affected Personal Pickup service. Customers both inside and outside the United States reported the outages on Thursday and Friday, although Apple never acknowledged the problems. The Apple stores use a variety of applications linked by various networks to track essential retail services, including scheduling, payroll, inventory and store events. The latter category includes the Concierge system for Genius Bar appointments, and systems for Personal Pickup, One to One, Personal Setup and instructional workshops. Starting on Thursday morning, customers reported that employees were using manual credit card imprinters to collect account information, a technique that some younger customers may never have experienced. In fact, most retailers stock an emergency kit (pdf) of credit card imprinters and paper-carbon charge slips in case of computer or network problems. Other customers said they were unable to pick up products at the stores that they had previously ordered on-line, since the computer system was down. However, sources were unable to pinpoint where along the network the outage had occurred—the network provider, within Apple’s network or along the link to credit card authorizers. The outages lasted several hours on both days. During that time, Apple was unable to obtain the usual credit card authorization for purchases, leaving open the possibility that some transactions involved credit cards that were reported lost or stolen, or that were over-limit. Normally, these types of purchases are declined by the authorizer. However, it’s likely that a very small percentage of sales was lost during the outages, either from fraud or impatient customers who decided not to wait for manual processing of their purchase.

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