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In the not-too-distant past, grocery cashiers would look at the price stickers on each item you were buying, and key in the price by hand. Nowadays, computers and scanners do all the work. So when the computers go down – there’s not much that cashiers can do but stand around helplessly while shoppers wait.

And if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in such a situation, you might actually end up fortunate enough to get all of your groceries for free.

That’s what happened at a New Hampshire grocery store this week. A Hannaford in West Lebanon suffered a computer outage on Monday afternoon. All of the scanners and cash registers failed at once, leaving dozens of shoppers standing in line, watching their ice cream melt and wondering if they’d ever get out of there.

The store manager determined that a fix for the problem could take up to an hour. So instead of making shoppers wait, he gave them the deal of a lifetime – all of their groceries for free.

“The last thing we wanted was for our customers to be waiting for the hour that it was going to take for that to come back up,” Shawn Quelch told WMTW-TV in nearby Portland, Maine. “So we kind of made the decision to just let those folks have the groceries they had selected and be on their way.”

One shopper estimated there were as many as 50 people waiting at the time. The manager said the cost of giving them all everything for free was between $3,000 and $5,000.

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These kind of things happen from time to time. If you’ve ever suffered computer problems at home or work, grocery stores are not immune. Several years ago, the registers all went down at a Harris Teeter store in Charlotte, North Carolina – the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The store was packed, and shoppers who had loaded up their carts for their holiday feasts were getting antsy. So the manager offered the same solution as his counterpart at Hannaford did this week – he let everyone have their groceries for free.

Unfortunately for shoppers at H-E-B stores in Texas, the only thing they got for free was some cookies from the bakery and meat and cheese samples from the deli when their stores’ registers went down last September. In that case, the outage wasn’t an isolated incident – it affected every H-E-B in the state. The registers seemed to be randomly giving deep discounts or ringing up every item as free, so they had to be shut down in an attempt to resolve the problem.

It would have cost the company a pretty penny to actually let everyone have everything for free, in every H-E-B store across Texas. So instead, shoppers throughout the state had to wait. And wait, and wait.

“It is pandemonium!” one shopper shared on Twitter. “The lines are backed up like Thanksgiving day,” another wrote.

As the systems came back online and shoppers were rewarded for their troubles by getting to pay full price for their groceries, they might have wished they’d shopped at Hannaford or Harris Teeter instead.

So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here’s hoping your store is feeling generous that day. Computers are supposed to help make our lives easier – but when they break down, they just might make your life a little more profitable, too.

Image source: Hannaford

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3 Comments

  1. Good question, as I was most likely using cash to pay.
    Perhaps they would do cash only, or possibly some stores still keep a “backup” card processing system on hand, maybe using phone to call for approval, since those often work without power, at least the “regular” ones that most stores would still have and the old style card machines.

  2. Had something similar once at a then P&C – the plaza had lost power so nothing was working.

    They actually handed everyone paper and pencils at the entry and asked you to write down the prices as you went along for items you picked, then added it all up at checkout with a calculator (may have been battery or they may have had a minimal power generator).

    Seemed like it worked pretty well and likely most people were honest, as they would figure that the employees probably knew somewhat the price ranges on many things and would know if you were trying to underprice things overall.

    • Wow, that sounds like “Scan & Go” from another era! A clever solution. But with so many people nowadays using credit or debit, I’m guessing writing down prices wouldn’t help since there would be no way for the store to accept payment if the electronic card readers weren’t working.

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