Chaos in busy stores as AIB card system fails

 

AIB IS investigating a fault in its computer systems that cost retailers millions of euro when credit and debit card facilities failed on Saturday.

For at least an hour on Saturday afternoon, the busiest shopping day of the year so far, AIB customers were unable to use their debit or credit cards and shops using AIB processing systems were equally disabled.

The glitch caused chaos in many busy stores and led to long queues at ATM machines as shoppers sought to get cash for purchases.

While some stores took customers' card details manually, others were forced to turn shoppers away until service was restored. "The incident led to a lot of customer frustration and we couldn't handle any cards for an hour and 20 minutes," said Tania Meighan of Arnotts. "We'll certainly be looking for an explanation."

AIB said there was a technical problem in its systems, which it is still investigating. A spokeswoman apologised to customers for the inconvenience caused.

The problem arose as retailers struggled to make the most of the most difficult Christmas shopping season in years.

Massive discounting has lured shoppers out in large numbers before Christmas, but sales volumes still appear to be down on last year.

Most retailers are recording high footfalls but say shoppers are reluctant to spend in the way they had in previous years.

Sales continued last week in many department stores and smaller retailers, while some outlets offered to pay the 21.5 per cent VAT on items bought in their stores.

At the Blanchardstown Centre, customer numbers are up marginally but sales volumes are down by between 8 per cent and 15 per cent on previous years, according to manager Pat Fitzgerald.

He said he was confident shoppers would come out in large numbers by the end of the season on Christmas Eve.

"People are much more careful now. They're thinking twice before buying," he said.

The trend was the same across the board, he said, from food to white goods. Gift vouchers were selling particularly well - another sign of buyer caution - and almost €100,000 worth of vouchers were sold on Saturday alone.

Arnotts, which has been running 20 per cent-off weekend promotions, said its sales were up on Saturday despite the problems with credit cards.

"Christmas started a bit later this year. People were cautious at first but now it seems they have decided to treat themselves - perhaps for the last time," said Ms Meighan.

At Dundrum Town Centre, where 30 new stores have opened in recent months, footfall is up 10 per cent on last year. Sales figures were not available but these were also up, according to spokeswoman Jane O'Keeffe.

"The mood on the mall is good but people are looking for value," she said. "We have the sense that customers held back over the last few weeks but now they're spending."

In spite of the rash of pre-Christmas sales, the traditional New Year sales are going ahead as normal.