Payments back up

Businesses should surely have some sort of back-up plan to move to if their card payments go down.

It’s really not that complicated and there are plenty of ways to take electronic payments.

While I was out of the country, some people on Twitter pointed me to this story about card payments going down for a day for some businesses in the UK.

“Dozens of businesses lost thousands of pounds over Valentine’s Day weekend after a technical problem left them unable to accept card payments. Problems with chip and pin card transactions started on Friday night and continued throughout Saturday because of issues with the network, run by Global Payments Inc.”

[From Businesses lose thousands after card payment system network crashed | Daily Mail Online]

Lost thousands? I was baffled by this. Don’t businesses have mobile phones? Don’t they have bank accounts? Did they really have no other way of taking an electronic payment? They didn’t have PayPal or PingIt or PayM or for that matter Bitcoin? They didn’t have a zipzap in cupboard somewhere? I had a laptop repaired a few days ago and (amazingly, to me) the guy didn’t take cards. So I paid using PayPal, using the shop wifi to log in and send the money.

It seems like bad planning to me for a retail business to have only one way to take non-cash payments. Surely, as I wrote a few years ago, in the event of a major disaster round the corner from me…

“The store manager at Waitrose can leave the food to rot on the shelves or he can accept a signed IOU. He could accept no sale because of flaws in the electronic payments or he could develop a rational fall-back strategy.”

[From The disaster in Japan has lessons for payments]

If I were running a shop or a restaurant or whatever I’d have mobile POS device in a draw just in case the POS went down: a power cut, incompetence by the acquirer, crash at the switches, who knows. So it takes a little bit longer to take a payment using an iZettle, Worldpay Zinc or Barclaycard Anywhere. So what? These mobile phone-centric alternatives work. We happen to have used iZettle to take card payments at our Unconference last week and it worked fine, but there are plenty of choices.

If I ran a watch shop like the guy in the article, I’d have a PingIt or PayM account set up anyway. And if push came to shove, I’d just take a photocopy of the card and run it later. It turns out that this is exactly what some businesses did.

“A manager at the store, who did not want to be named, said the problems started on Friday afternoon and were not fixed until Sunday morning. They were forced to take customers’ details and spent Sunday inputting them manually.”

[From Businesses lose thousands after card payment system network crashed | Daily Mail Online]

In fact I noticed a similar point made in one of the comments on the article.

“I worked in a hotel and our chip and pin was down for a whole weekend once. We took all cards manually then when the machines were working we processed all the payments. There was probably about 1 out of 400 that didn’t go through. Hardly a loss of thousands.”

[From Businesses lose thousands after card payment system network crashed | Daily Mail Online]

Quite. And in the case of the hotel I’m sure they had the ID and contact details of the guest with the rejected card so they called them up and got another card instead. I also noticed in the comments that in the case of this particular failure, the processor’s back-up system was in place and working.

“Speaking as a Global Payments customer, we do have the paper back up system and all they had to do was call up for a manual authorisation”

[From Businesses lose thousands after card payment system network crashed | Daily Mail Online]

Look. Businesses have to have contingency plans. What would they do if the electricity went out? Or the water was turned off? Or there was a flood? Those are serious problems that you can’t recover from. Having your chip and PIN terminal fail is nothing by comparison. Anyone who had to turn a customer away because their POS was down didn’t have a back-up plan and given that there are so many options, to be honest I’m a tiny bit unsympathetic.

These are the personal opinions of Consult Hyperion and its guests and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinion of its clients or suppliers. To discuss how any of the technologies discussed in this post can benefit your business, please contact Consult Hyperion.