Target employees share their wildest stories from the retailer's weekend register crash

  • Target underwent a widespread global outage at its registers on Saturday.
  • For about two hours, “The Great Target Outage of ’19” caused lines to swell and tempers to flare at the retailer.
  • Target employees described witnessing technological glitches, abandoned carts, and frustrated shoppers.
  • For the most part, though, four employees who spoke to Business Insider said they saw nothing akin to the “Lord of the Flies”-esque situation that you might expect from angry customers.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Target stores across the country were the site of a fiasco on Saturday when the retailer’s cash registers collectively went on the fritz.
And alongside the frustrated shoppers who voiced their complaints and observations about the “Great Target Outage of ’19” on social media were the Target employees struggling to explain what was happening and contend with the frustrated crowds.

Business Insider spoke to four Target employees about their experiences this weekend, along with Jacquelyn Smith, Business Insider’s deputy editor of distributed content, who was shopping at Target at the time.

Read more: Target just unrolled its highly anticipated Vineyard Vines collaboration, but shoppers are complaining that the clothing has already sold-out

“This past weekend, our team members were empowered to make the shopping experience as seamless as they could when guest transactions were not being processed,” a Target spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. “Stores showed up to make it right for our guests by keying items manually, asking to hold guest orders, and handing out snacks and beverages. We have received numerous positive messages from our guests who felt our teams delivered at an exceptional level during a difficult time.”

Here’s what employees had to say about the retailer’s register malfunction:


Employees and customers alike were confused at first …

Sources on the ground agreed that the situation at their respective Targets was initially confusing without being out-of-control when the glitch first began on Saturday.

Smith said that she and her family didn’t even realise that something was amiss when they first entered their local Target in Levittown, New York.

One employee who spoke with Business Insider said the experience was much the same in-store.

“At first, people were just straight up confused,” an employee told Business Insider. “They weren’t upset. They were like, ‘OK, maybe something’s temporary with our store alone.’ But the moment they heard it could be hours, that’s when people started getting frustrated.”

That same Target employee described their experience during the weekend malfunction, saying that they were in the middle of checking out a customer when it happened. They had successfully scanned every product, aside from a small water pistol.

“I kept scanning, but it wouldn’t let me scan this one last item,” they said. “I was like, ‘Oh, no. I can’t let this happen. I’m going to total this out before it all crashes.”

That last customer was able to escape with her purchases, aside from the water gun.

“And then it kind of just broke out into chaos,” the employee said.


… but many stores worked to keep their customers informed about what was happening.

Northfoto / Shutterstock

The Target employees who spoke to Business Insider said that their managers and team leads worked to inform shoppers about the outages from the get-go, through announcements over the intercom.

“They did a pretty good job of keeping everyone informed on what was happening,” Smith said.


Workers were relieved to hear the issue was global, but many customers had the opposite reaction.

Getty/Boston Globe

“We were actually told it was global about five minutes after it initially happened,” one employee said.

Two employees told Business Insider that they were relieved to hear that the issue wasn’t just affecting their store.

But another employee added that many shoppers mistakenly became concerned that the glitch was the result of a widespread security breach, like the one that affected the chain in 2014.


It was an all-hands-on-deck situation.

One Target employee told Business Insider that they were about halfway through their shift when they first got the error message at their register.

Then, everyone’s walkie talkies started crackling.

“Now, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘All right, we need everyone in the store to come up to the cash lanes,'” the employee said. “They’re just trying to figure out what to do.”


Some stores found a workaround …

David Tran Photo / Shutterstock

One employee described relying on the store’s two guest services registers, which would accept around one out of every 20 scans. They said that their colleagues were able to use those registers for checking out customers with smaller baskets, like kids picking up Father’s Day cards.

Another employee said that their store used binders located at the cash registers to manually input different product codes. According to a different employee, such workarounds ensured that the glitch wasn’t too big of a deal in their store.

“The register situation on Saturday … affected us a little,” the employee said. “They figured out a way to check out [customers], it just took a lot longer.”


… but it wasn’t a perfect fix.

Two Target employees said that inventory would likely be thrown for a loop this month, as a result of the weekend’s events.

One worker added that confusion around inventory could cause problems when it comes to online fulfillment within the stores.

“The register was not scanning the items, so the cashier would enter nine nines and then scan the item with a cell phone on the Target app to get the price of the item,” a different employee said.

The cashier would then have to enter the code manually “so all items were marked as unknown items; so the items sold are not shown as sold.”


Some Targets offered customers perks like free Starbucks samples, popcorn, or discounts.

One Target employee said that their store handed out Starbucks samples on trays, while another said their team gave customers “$US5 off purchases of less than $US50” and “$US10 off of purchases $US50 and over.”

“We don’t have a Starbucks in our store, but we gave out things like popcorn and things from our cafe,” a different employee said.


Employees say that many customers cut their losses.

But the perks weren’t enough to stop some shoppers from just giving up.

“We had people literally leave their entire carts right where they were, take their children, and walk right out the door,” one employee said. “It was crazy. You’re talking carts full of 100 to 150 items.”

The employee said that some shoppers even left messages on their carts, noting their name and phone number.

“They said to call them back when it was ready, and they would come back to the store,” the employee said. “Oh my goodness, it was a mess.”

A different employee said that people did the same exact thing in their store, but that none of those guests returned to pick up their items.

That being said, not everyone abandoned ship when the registers conked out. Smith, herself a fan of Target, ended up deciding to stick it out and wait in line.

Because she visited later on Saturday afternoon, she said her wait time wasn’t terribly excessive. She was in and out of the store in about an hour.

“Even with the lines, I really wasn’t intimidated,” she said. “Clearly other people weren’t either, because there were that many people in line.”


Others tried to get away with stealing …

Two employees described witnessing people stealing – or attempting to pilfer – items due to the delays.

“We had a few people walk out of our store with stolen goods,” one Target employee said, adding that their prevention-loss specialist was able to stop a number of would-be thefts.


… some took their frustration out on employees …

QualityHD/Shutterstock

Not everyone grinned and bore the delays at Target. One employee described getting yelled at by a guest, who started dumping random products in her cart before storming out of the store.

“She was saying, ‘This is just messed up. Now you guys put this back and actually do something with your jobs,'” the employee said. “We had a lot of people upset and saying, ‘If I can’t pay for it, it’s free!”

“We just smile and wave,” a different employee said, describing dealing with irate customers.


… and still other shoppers broke out commonly heard jokes.

“A lot of people were saying if they couldn’t buy it, it’s going to have to be free,” one employee said.

A different employee said that they encountered a number of customers who joked that Target had been hacked by Russia, North Korea, or even its retail rival Walmart.


But, for the most part, people were either understanding or at least quiet about their frustration.

For the most part, however, the employees agreed that customers weren’t unreasonable or hostile, given the circumstances.

“The overall tone of our store was actually fairly relaxed,” one employee said. “I heard a few stores actually had riots going on. All we had were a few people yelling here and there because they don’t understand what’s going on and they think it’s a security breach.”

The employee added that most people seemed to accept that the issues with the registers were beyond the pay grade of the store employees.

“Just because there’s an issue at Target, it doesn’t mean that team members are always going to know what’s wrong at first,” the employee said. “Sometimes it’s beyond our help and we can’t really do anything about it, but we’ll apologise to them and try to support the guests.”

A Target spokesperson told Business Insider that the company was proud of how its employees handled themselves during the glitch.

“We are proud of how stores sprang into action, doing whatever they could to manage the situation and make the experience as positive as it could be,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider.

Are you a Target employee with a story to share? Email [email protected]

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