Free drinks that might be costly: Starbucks hit by massive point of sale terminal outage, speculation begins

Sign on New Jersey Starbucks/ courtest Anthony Quintano / Click for original
Sign on New Jersey Starbucks/ courtest Anthony Quintano / Click for original

Many coffee drinkers across North America are rejoicing tonight as Starbucks has been handing out free drinks, but whatever the reason, it’s probably not good news for the coffee giant or its consumers.

Confirmed by a mountain of celebretory Tweets, Starbucks locations around the U.S. and in Canada suffered a crippling point of sale terminal outage, beginning at around 7 p.m. ET. Some locations started handing out drinks for free; others said they could only take cash payments.  Word spread like wildfire on social media, with baristas on a Reddit thread complaining that word of free drinks led to huge lines in their stores almost immediately.

It can’t be good news that Starbucks’ credit card terminals are down, however.  Since the outage hit at 4 p.m. Friday on the west coast, the most optimistic explanation is that some kind of software upgrade or installation went horribly wrong, and Starbucks is having a hard time clawing it back.  Starbucks, like many firms, is in the process of updating its cash registers/point of sale terminals in advance of the October deadline required retailers to accept new chip-enabled credit cards.  This story details work by Starbucks, along with provider VeriFone, to turn its terminals around so they face consumers, who will be required to insert so-called EMV chip credit cards into the machines themselves.

Of course, with massive credit card point of sale hackers at Target, Home Depot, and numerous other chain stores, another potential explanation is a cyber attack.

Starbucks has yet to offer an explanation, and until it does, or until an outside analyst offers new insight, consumers won’t know.  So, if you’ve gotten a free drink, enjoy it. It might be more costly than you realize.

UPDATE: Starbucks says outage caused by “a failure during a daily system refresh.” 



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About Bob Sullivan 1638 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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