Boxing day sales shambles

BOTCH UP: Tarocash store manager Hinanui Taputu kept customers talking while waiting for a back-up dial-up system to kick in yesterday.
BOTCH UP: Tarocash store manager Hinanui Taputu kept customers talking while waiting for a back-up dial-up system to kick in yesterday.

Retailers were fuming after a Vodafone glitch shut down eftpos for hours on the busiest shopping day of the year.

A broadband server problem with Vodafone crashed eftpos at some Lower Hutt shops from about 10.30am yesterday, with some experiencing problems through till late afternoon.

Many shops, including a number in the packed Westfield Queensgate Shopping Centre, were unable to process transactions because of the outage.

At clothing store Meccano in the shopping centre, shoppers walked out in frustration - taking their money with them, manager Charlene Roughton said.

The crash occurred at the busiest time on the busiest shopping day, with lines outside cash machines growing as the problem dragged on.

"We had a lot of people come in with Meccano cards and Westfield cards that they wanted to spend and simply couldn't," she said.

"It's generally the busiest day of the year for us and was made even worse by happening at the worst time."

At the nearby clothing store Tarocash, manager Hinanui Taputu said she managed to hold on to most of the customers as they waited for their back-up dial-up connection to kick in.

It took about half an hour to resolve and customers either withdrew cash or came back later in the day.

"We're not in a good spot because the nearest cash machines are quite far away, so customers were pretty frustrated by that," she said.

"We just kept the conversation going and tried to keep them in the store long enough to sort it."

At Digi Imports, the internet connection was still cutting out late in the afternoon and retailer Aaron Davies said the cash machine outside had been a "lifesaver".

"The shop was chocker when it happened, but most people were pretty good about it and went and got cash or just came back once things were working better."

Retailers Association spokesman Barry Hellberg said Boxing Day was arguably the biggest shopping day of the year.

"The weather had led people to going shopping. If technology is not working that is bad news."

He had never heard of a mass internet outage hitting Boxing Day before and expected retailers could seek compensation, depending on their contract with Vodafone.

Vodafone spokeswoman Michelle Baguley said it was unknown how many retailers had been disrupted by the outage but apologised to any customers affected. She would not comment on whether Vodafone would offer compensation.

While the glitch may have frustrated some customers and retailers, thousands still flocked to Westfield Queensgate and other shopping destinations around the country yesterday. Paymark, which processes about three-quarters of electronic payment transactions in the country, will release Boxing Day transaction figures today but there are already predictions of record spending.

Last year on Boxing Day, spending was up 13.4 per cent - or $14.2 million - compared to the previous year, and pre-Christmas spending this year broke records.

More than two million transactions, worth a total of $120m, were processed by Paymark last Boxing Day.

Sales and marketing head of Paymark, Paul Whiston, said the increase was the first double-digit increase for Boxing Day in five years.

Megan Annear was stocking up at the Westfield mall before heading to the Rhythm and Vines New Year's Eve festival near Gisborne. After three hours, she had managed to buy gumboots in preparation for a potentially wet festival. "This is hell. I'm only here because I have to be," she said.

Oliver Raynor, 9, received a Sony PS3 console for Christmas but father John Raynor waited for Boxing Day to go back and get a controller.

Despite the crowds being "mental", Mr Raynor said he planned to stick around to see what other bargains he could find.

At central Wellington's Kirkcaldie & Stains, managing director John Milford said about 150 people were already queueing outside before the store opened at 10am.

The store had dropped Christmas decorations and food to half price, as well as other discounts.

And for those looking to avoid the Boxing Day bustle, online shopping still offered plenty of bargains, even if many were unwanted Christmas gifts.

Trade Me spokesman Paul Ford said that in the 24 hours to 3.30pm yesterday, more than 20,000 new items had been listed on the online auction website. There were more than 60,000 searches for "unwanted gifts".

The Dominion Post