An IT outage at Woolworths, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, caused havoc this week, shutting down checkouts and forcing shoppers to leave their groceries at the stores.
The glitch hit at about 4pm on Monday 16 April, knocking out checkout electronic transaction systems at Woolworths supermarkets and the Woolworths Group, which is owned by liquor chain BWS, nationwide.
The system crash lasted for about 30 minutes and was caused by an IT system update, according to Woolworths group CEO Brad Banducci. The company operates almost 1,000 stores in Australia and about half were reportedly affected by the outage.
Woolworths’ Australian food operations pulled in revenue of A$19.3bn for the half-year ended December 2017. Lost revenue for a half-hour outage could amount to several million dollars.
In a statement, Banducci apologised to shoppers and staff and vowed to do better in Woolworths’ IT operations.
“This was related to an update to our IT systems,” he said. “Our systems ultimately self-corrected themselves and we were back and open for trade across most stores by 4.30pm, with all stores now operational.”
“This type of incident should not occur and we apologise unreservedly to our customers and store teams for the inconvenience caused.”
Social media erupted during the outage, with reports of shoppers leaving fully loaded trolleys behind in stores. Some stores closed their doors to prevent customers coming in during the outage and being frustrated by disabled checkouts.
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One Melbourne woman told a local radio station that customers at the store where she was during the outage were offered boxes of chocolates as compensation, while other customers suggested they should have been able to take their groceries home free of charge.
Traditional Australian supermarket chains such as Woolworths and arch rival Coles have been under pressure from new rivals in recent years.
Big German retailer Aldi began opening stores in Australia in 2001, and now Amazon is in the process of beefing up its local retail infrastructure.
The US online retailer and cloud provider set up an Australian Marketplace last year, but so far the launch has not lived up to the hype.
Surveys have shown Australians are currently much more likely to use Amazon to buy clothes, books and electronics than fresh or packaged food.
But that could change in coming years as more brands join the local Amazon Marketplace and customers become more comfortable with the delivery process for food items.