The Real Cost of Free Coffee: When POS Systems Go Down in Today’s Connected World

Free coffee cost some retail locations their business. This is why it’s vital to keep systems that rely on a connection–like POS systems– up and running.


It’s 7:06 AM. You’ve already hit the gym, had a couple eggs for breakfast, and are on your way to the office. Your morning routine is just about complete, except for one last stop. Easily the most important stop. Your morning Starbucks run.

“Double pump non-fat latte, hold the whipped cream, and make it 93 degrees, please.”

You get your phone out to pay with your Starbucks app.

“Sorry, we’re not accepting mobile payments today,” the cashier says.

Figuring there’s an issue with the app, you take out your wallet and reach for your credit card.

“Sorry, not that either.”

You don’t even have to look in your wallet, because you already know you’re not carrying cash. An unusually exasperated barista has no choice but to let you know that your drink is free today.

“Our POS system is down and we’re unable to accept any sort of electronic payment.”

HALLELUJAH! Free coffee and it’s not even your birthday? The beverage gods are smiling down on you today!

The fact is, while this story may seem far fetched, it actually happened at over 60% of Starbucks — 13,500 stores across the U.S. and Canada. While many stores offered free coffee, others closed down completely.

We live in an increasingly technology-driven world, where data rules all. That means that your morning coffee is more than just a hot beverage on your way to work. It’s one data point representative of your tastes, profession, and socioeconomic status.

“Data is the holy grail of retail,” said Craig Bahner, former chief marketing officer for Wendy’s, in the U.S. News article. “We always thought of the POS system as a tool to be able to get to know your customer.”

According to the article, Starbucks attributed the outage to an “internal failure during a daily system refresh.”

Given how much information POS systems collect and contain, any type of outage can be incredibly costly both in the dollars column, but perhaps more importantly in the data column.

Having an effective cloud backup plan in place becomes that much more essential. Whether it’s the world’s most recognized coffee brand, a different restaurant franchise, a logistics company, or an automotive dealership, the best businesses–the smart businesses– use data to guide their decision-making, and understand that any amount of down-time is deadly.

Painful outages that affect revenue and reputation are not the only area for concern for retailers like Starbucks. Retailers now use cloud access for some of or all of the following applications:

  • Incoming and outgoing phone calls
  • Store Video & Security & Training
  • Access to important company Programs/Files/Data
  • Email
  • Inventory management
  • Customer guest WiFi

Starbucks’ POS system went down once, but there’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

After having to either give away free coffee or shut down most of its stores, it’s safe to assume the coffee giant is looking into backup solutions so it doesn’t get fooled again.

Are you doing the same?

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