In recent days, IT and software problems have caused major disruption to some of the UK’s best-known retailers.

High-street stalwart Greggs had to close several outlets in Manchester, Newcastle, London and Cardiff and go cash-only in others across its network of more than 2,450 bakeries, following computer system issues.

Similarly, Sainsbury’s was unable to fulfil the majority of its online orders after an overnight software update led to problems that affected stores, grocery services and its ability to contact customers.

Other IT issues have caused difficulties for the likes of McDonald’s, Tesco, Barclays and Nationwide. So what is going wrong? And what can retailers do about it?

I fear we are now seeing the result of a major lack of investment in the UK’s retail IT infrastructure. If problems were just affecting smaller businesses, that would be serious enough. But the fact that they are hitting such major organisations and causing issues that are very public and are affecting customers should leave the whole sector seriously concerned.

With the growth of AI and an increasing reliance on automation within retail, customers need to have certainty and trust that everything from vital food orders to the security of their credit card details are in safe hands. These IT failures are likely to undermine this trust.

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Roq has worked on quality-engineering IT projects for the likes of a leading UK pet chain and one of the world’s largest pharmacy and beauty business. From our perspective, these recent incidents highlight the complex challenges and potential vulnerabilities inherent in today’s technology-reliant operations.

Payment systems, in particular, are critical infrastructures that demand unwavering attention to quality and resilience. Any failure, whether due to technical glitches or defects, can lead to significant financial loss and damage to customer relations. More rigorous, regular monitoring of software systems and processes for all retailers, whether large or small, is vital.

Organisations should conduct frequent analysis to ensure that their software systems align with the evolving needs and challenges of their business and staff, as well as with their maintenance capabilities. Reactive measures are not sufficient.

They should develop fast, agile, automated testing capabilities. Organisations need to have detailed mitigation plans for system failures. They should conduct regular quality-assurance reviews to ensure standards and organisational testing practices and processes are up to date and fit for purpose.

Retailers cannot afford to wait for something to go wrong before embarking on remedial action. Even if they don’t make an immediate positive impression on bottom lines, investing in quality systems and testing capabilities are likely to save organisations time, money and stress in the future.

Greggs’ swift response to resolve its payment processing issues and restore service was commendable. Yet the occurrence itself is a stark illustration of the need for pre-emptive quality engineering measures.

Similarly, the experiences of McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco underscore the fragility of retail operations in the face of technical challenges. Whether these incidents were caused by software updates or undiscovered defects, the result is the same: a direct impact on operations, brand damage, customer satisfaction, and loss of revenue.

And it doesn’t even need big IT problems to cause significant business issues. A recent survey found that something as basic website loading speeds influence the purchase decisions of 82% of respondents.

Retailers need to find a better balance between technology innovation and resilience. To have quality engineered IT strategies and solutions necessary to navigate a fast evolving landscape confidently. To be resilient now, and future proof.

The experiences of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and others serve as critical calls to action for all retailers. Now is the time to reaffirm their commitment to operational resilience, safeguard their technology, their business, their customers and, ultimately, their future. These events are lessons and opportunities for growth, innovation, and strengthened operational resilience.

About the author: Stephen Johnson is the CEO and founder of quality engineering consultancy Roq.