UK grocer Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world in terms of revenue, may have to hire a few Texas IT cowboys to help corral its IT-inspired rogue stampedes.
A few weeks ago, what appeared to be just a one-off human error in setting automated till prices for a beer promotion in its Scottish stores and which started a "beer stampede" seems to have struck again yesterday.
According to a story in the London Daily Mail, another beer promotion which was supposed to offer a £4 savings off two cases (12 cans per case) of leading brands of beer that normally retail for £20 rang up at checkout registers as £4 total instead.
As happened previously, news of the error spread rapidly across social and associated media. The Daily Mail reported that:
"News spread like wildfire across Internet shopping forums, such as Martin Lewis’s moneysavingexpert.com, prompting a rush to stores.... The web site thread detailing what was happening was viewed an astonishing 20,000 times in two hours."
Tesco security staff had to be called in some circumstances, the Daily Mail said, as crowds quickly formed to buy the cheap beer. In some stores, customers were told by cashiers that there was an error in pricing, and weren't allowed to purchase any beer. However, customers then used the automated checkout registers to get around that minor constraint.
The Mail said:
"Shoppers from Inverness to Ipswich, Northern Ireland to Liverpool, Essex, Shrewsbury and Birmingham reported taking advantage of the mistake."
Tesco once again tried to play down the problem, saying that the automated pricing error was fixed by 1300 London time. However, the Mail story reports that the mistake, which began around 1000, lasted until at least 1500 in some stores.
Two accidental beer stampedes in a month is unlikely to harm Tesco's bottom line too much, but a stampede of customers from its online bank just might.
Last weekend, Tesco began what was to be the final elements of updating its Tesco Bank computer systems by "transferring savings and loans products in-house, from its previous joint operation with RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland]," says a report in the BBC.
Tesco Bank operates in Tesco stores, online, and by telephone and has some 6.5 million customer accounts, the BBC states.
However, on Monday, Tesco acknowledged that the migration experienced problems which kept some customers from accessing their accounts on Sunday. Tesco said in a statement to the BBC that:
"For a brief period some customers were unfortunately unable to access their accounts.... We apologise for this, but can reassure them that the process is now complete and all customers can access their accounts online as normal."
Unfortunately, that statement wasn't completely factual.
Yesterday, for instance, there were reports like these two appearing at This is Money and ComputerWorld UK stating that many Tesco Bank customers were unable to access their money from Sunday through Wednesday. Customers were spewing venom at the bank's apparent lack of concern and denial of their problems, both stories reported.
The ComputerWorld UK article said that on Tuesday, Tesco insisted that there was nothing wrong and again, on Wednesday, it reported that:
"A spokesperson at Tesco insisted the site was working this morning, and that the problems had been 'intermittent'."
Angry Tesco Bank customers were vowing to pull their online accounts from the bank - if they could ever access them.
The two stories yesterday also reported that Tesco Bank customers, who were trying to diagnosis the "intermittent" problem themselves since the bank seemed uninterested in doing so, were indicating that the problem apparently centered around the browser used to access Tesco Bank's web site. Modzilla's Firefox browsers seemed to work okay for the most part, while those customers using Microsoft Explorer and especially IE9 were having problems.
This morning, ComputerWorld UK published a story confirming an IE9 browser related problem with Tesco Bank's web site, and stated that Tesco Bank had issued "urgent guidance" to customers on how to access their accounts if they used said browser. Without any sense of irony, the bank's guidance appears on a web page titled, "Improving Tesco Online Banking."
Tesco Bank, the ComputerWorld UK story also reports, said that it apologizes "unreservedly" for the problems which it had been so quick to dismiss.
However, the ComputerWorld UK story also notes that some of its readers were saying that they were still having access trouble using Firefox and Apple Safari browsers, while Google Chrome browser users were reporting that they didn't.
I suspect it will take a few more days for all the technical glitches to be worked out. How many customers follow through on leaving Tesco Bank will be interesting to watch, as will whether Tesco plans to help its customers who may incurred overdraft or late payments because they couldn't access their accounts.
Tesco Bank's IT department may also want to revamp its browser testing regime; listening closely to customer complaints might also help a bit.
And people who use only one online bank to do all their banking may want to consider having another one as a backup to cover situations like this.
Tesco Bank customers feel free to vent here.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.