Our computers work... or your money back

The BBC reports that Sainsbury’s has been forced to suspend its online shopping service due to an undisclosed computer glitch. The article makes for interesting reading when you compare it to public attitudes towards public sector system failures. The BBC’s concerned shopper, put out at the earth-shattering prospect of a late delivery, says “I was initially very angry but if it’s a technical glitch, that’s beyond their control”. That has to be the most forgiving system failure comment of the year. And why? Apparently Sainsbury’s is contacting affected customers and offering them £10 compensation

Most importantly, Sainsbury’s is offering customers a £10 voucher for next time they shop online. Compare that with the many public sector failures of recent months, where in many cases it has been impossible to extract an apology, let alone recognition that customers might have been affected.

Here’s a suggestion: next time the public sector contracts for a portal/gateway/online service, why not commission more than one front-end and get the providers to compete for consumers’ business? We might, for example, choose through which gateway we prefer to submit our tax returns. The providers would be paid on a per-submission basis, and competing for our services would certainly ensure that they were reliable – or that they apologise for errors when they happen.