Target’s customers jumped en masse onto social media Sunday night after technical malfunctions at its stores around the country resulted in long checkout lines and, in some cases, inability to make purchases with store-branded credit cards.

The episode struck a nerve with customers, not only because of the inconvenience, but because it was a reminder of another Target point-of-sale glitch. Last year’s infamous security breach that may have affected as many as 110 million customers.

Target has attributed Sunday’s temporary breakdown — the system was apparently back up by midnight — to a malfunctioning network device.

The company apologized for the inconvenience, reassured customers that the disruption was not due to a security breach, and in some locations gave customers gift cards or complimentary beverages.

Still, the incident surely didn’t increase consumer confidence in the Target brand, Michael Myers, a marketing lecturer at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, told CRM Buyer.

No Playing Favorites on Social Media

It is probably cold comfort to Target, but the wave of comments on Twitter probably would have been directed toward any retailer — not just one that recently experienced a security breach.

“Social media acted, and will always act as a means to first communicate information, and then sentiment, which occurred in this case,” Myers said.

The problem, at least from Target’s perspective, is that social media allows the rumor mill to spin out of control very quickly, noted Rich Hanley, associate professor and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University.

“Social media posts amplify issues and create a heightened sense of a problem often beyond the scope of the problem itself,” he told CRM Buyer.

For that reason, “it would be best for Target and other firms to have a strategy in place to handle these incidents,” Hanley suggested. “Target reacted quickly with coupons to placate customers — but even so, word proliferated on social media as misunderstandings and rumors abounded.”

Target, in particular, should be on hyper-alert to put out rumors, precisely because it compromised its customers’ data last year.

A short-lived checkout glitch likely would have been a minor story for any other national retailer, David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, told CRM Buyer.

“Coming on the heels of the massive security breach the company suffered, it reinforced the narrative that something is wrong with the company when it comes to its checkouts and security in regards to credit cards and debit cards,” he said.

Target still hasn’t adequately responded to the bad press the breach earned for the company, Johnson maintained, and based on its less-than-robust response to this event, “Target still is not giving a proper crisis communications response.”

Two Audiences

One point that should be emphasized is that there are two audiences paying attention to this story, Britt Fero, chief strategy officer at Publicis Seattle, told CRM Buyer — the investor community and consumers.

Investors are watching how Target responds to issues with an eagle eye, and they probably will be for some time. Everyday shoppers, though, may be a little more forgiving — especially if they liked the Target brand before the breach.

That is not to say consumers didn’t lose trust in Target, “just like when a car is recalled after something major — but here’s where a great brand connection matters,” Fero said.

“If Target continues to deliver on the customer-focused experience they’ve created — one that continues to democratize fashion and design in ways that other retailers don’t/can’t,” she suggested, “then the brand will remain strong.”