Preparing for a POS Down Crisis


Even the best POS systems go down. It is not a matter of if, but when. Preparation and practice for this type of event is key. The best thing a business can do is to get ahead of the situation to mitigate the damage and reduce the financial impact.

Rather than business coming to a halt, it is best for the management team to have a plan in place. Management and staff should be aware of the backup process in the event they are left without a POS system. Below are some ideas one may want to cover if they are ever affected by a system down situation.

Troubleshooting the Internet

Before contacting the point of sale or merchant processing company, the first thing the business will want to determine if it is it a network or POS issue. Some things to consider while troubleshooting:

  1. Determine if the issue is internet or POS/server related? More times than not, an internet outage can be the culprit of major POS problems. A simple way to check the internet would be to simply try to open a website on a computer using the same network as your POS system. If the site has trouble opening, some steps for troubleshooting would be:

    1. Plug a laptop/computer directly into the modem provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

      1. If internet issues still persist, try restarting the modem or contacting your ISP for resolution.

      2. If internet is available at the modem, try to access websites from a computer plugged into the router/switch provided by your POS provider or network specialist. A simple power cycle of the router/switch can correct a network issue, however it is highly recommended that this is done with the POS company on the phone.

  2. If internet is available throughout the business, the next thing to determine if all terminals are affected or just one?

    1. If one terminal is affected, it may be something as simple as a loose cable either at the POS switch/router or at the terminal itself.

    2. If all terminals are affected and it is determined that it is not an internet issue, it would be best to involve the POS company at this point as it may be an issue involving the POS server or the router itself.

Put a Backup Plan in Place

Not only should the business have a WRITTEN backup plan in place if it ever finds itself without a POS system, it also helps to make sure the entire staff is trained on how to handle a system-down situation. Some things to consider in your system-down procedures are:

Have a Handwritten System Documented and Put in Place

It is best to develop and have a handwritten ticket system documented before any major catastrophe hits. Management and employees should also periodically be trained on how to use this system.

  • For restaurants, this will include steps for a manual ticket process. The staff should know how to create a ticket at the table, turned it into the kitchen, and total the check amount to bill the customer. It would be a good idea to have an inventory of manual tickets in stock that are numbered so all payments/orders can be accounted for at the end of the shift.

  • For retail, it will help to record every sale with UPC/Skew number and cross reference these items on the credit card/cash slip provided to the customer.

Ask Your POS Company and Learn How to Use Offline Mode

Many POS systems support an offline mode for accepting credit cards while the internet or server is down. This allows the business to continue to run normally (including running credit cards through the system), however cards are only being stored in the system until the internet comes back online. The business does run the risk of accepting a card that declines at a later time, however the risk may outweigh the reward of not having to go to a manual process.

Alternative Sources for Accepting Credit Cards

Many merchant processing companies offer mobile payment/gateway solutions (For Example: MX Express) that will allow businesses to still authorize credit cards outside of the POS system. It would be a good idea to preemptively create all of the user accounts needed, log into each device, and record these usernames/passwords in a secure location. Businesses should also know which phone(s) will have the mobile payment app on them. Be sure to login and test the system periodically to make sure there are no surprises when the system is needed. Aside from the mobile payment piece, many merchant processors also provide a gateway (For Example: MX Merchant) that can be used online if mobile phones are not available.

Keep in mind that if payments are recorded in another application, such as authorizations on a mobile phone, they will need to be recorded in the POS system. It is best to have a payment method button on the POS system that will still close the table/check, record the order number, and track the payment type.

If a mobile payment or gateway option is not available from the merchant processor, the next best option is to have “knuckle busters” and payment slips available. Similar to offline mode, the merchant will run the risk of accepting a card that may be declined later.

Know Who to Call and for What

It is also a good idea to have a document available with important phone numbers for management to call in a system down situation. Resources to consider are:

  • The point-of-sale company

    • Sales Rep Contact Info

    • Support Phone Number

    • Escalation (if available)

  • Credit Card Company

    • Sales Rep Contact Info

    • Support Phone Number

    • Escalation (if available)

  • Networking company

    • If available, company that installed the network system

  • Voice Authorizations phone numbers for VISA, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express

Look into Failover/Backup Internet

Many companies offer internet over 4G that can be installed near the router/modem. In the event of an internet outage, the system will automatically detect the internet is down and rollover to the back up 4G signal. This is ideal as it will have minimum disruption to the operation and the merchant can continue to authorize credit cards.

If a situation ever comes up where the merchant finds themself without a point-of-sale, preparation and training will be key. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what and that the process is clearly documented and available. While hoping or the best is good, it is always best to prepare for the worst.

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