Greggs, Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s IT outages ‘highlight risks of cashless society’

By Staff

Greggs, Sainsbury’s and McDonald’s were among the retailers hit by IT outages in recent days, with experts warning of the risks of an increasingly “cashless” society

Technical issues which crippled card payment systems and left large retailers including Greggs unable to provide services highlight the risks of an increasingly “cashless” society, experts have said.

On Wednesday Greggs was the latest retailer left paralysed by an IT outage that left its outlets in major cities including London, Glasgow and Manchester only able to accept cash payments or had to temporarily close following the glitch affecting tills.

Customers trying to make contactless card payments at Sainsbury’s stores across the UK on Saturday were unable to after the supermarket experienced IT outages which also halted some home delivery orders. On Friday, McDonald’s, which has some 1,300 branches in the UK, suffered a “global technology system outage” leaving some customers unable to order.

“One of the key takeaways will be to review the robust back-up systems these retailers have got in place,” said Jenni Matthews, head of marketing and insights at MRI Software. She added: “We’re in a day and age where we rely on technology so heavily. Many of us go out with just a phone, in the hope that we can buy a pint of milk or some lunch using contactless payment.”

Ms Matthews said that by the end of 2023, more people were using cash because it helped them “budget a lot more effectively” during the cost-of-living crisis. However, she noted that retailers are increasingly relying on IT systems for payments that aren’t “robust enough”.

In 2022, card payments accounted for 90% of retail spending and resulted in £1.3 billion in vendor processing fees, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Andrew Martin, founder of financial technology company SMEB, said the outages “shone a fresh light on the continued importance of cash in today’s society”. He added: “It is the latest sign that the march to a completely cashless society is a bad idea.”

Adam Pilton, a cyber security consultant at CyberSmart, said the IT outages “should act as a reminder to us in our personal lives and within our business lives of the dependence we place upon technology”. There is no evidence the technical problems in recent days were caused by cyber attacks – McDonald’s said its global outage was caused by a “third-party provider”.

But Mr Pilton, who has investigated cybercrime as a former detective sergeant at Dorset Police, said hungry customers were the least of retailers’ worries. He added: “The implications of a ransomware attack could have similar consequences to daily operations and is something every business should be preparing for.”

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