Credit Card Machine Fails, Forcing Editor To Forgo Seltzer And Toilet Paper

So I was in the grocery store this morning buying three rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of seltzer with a credit card, as I am wont to do. (It was on my way back from the gym and I had brought a credit card just for this purpose. I didn’t have any cash, I don’t like to bring my wallet to the gym, and I don’t like to have to futz with lockers).

After I swiped my card, I watched as a blue bar status bar creeped across the cashier’s screen. After a good 30 seconds, it said something like “failed to create an ip connection.” They tried again, and at another register, with the same results. We all shrugged our shoulders and made fun of the internet.

The casher said of the credit card machine, “When it works, it’s great, but when it doesn’t…pfft.”

We’re being trained to forgo cash because credit and debit cards are supposed to be more convenient. But what do in a world where most people don’t carry any cash around whatsoever, and the systems break down? What if they failed on a massive scale, like a nuclear or electromagnetic attack? Your $20 bill is never going to give you a connection error.


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  1. nuch says:

    I rarely to never carry cash, and this is something that always worries me. That, or that the store is going to have a (violating-their-terms-of-service-with-the-credit-card-companies) credit card minimum, and since I can never remember my ATM PIN, I’m completely stuck.

  2. vaxman says:

    Bow to the TP gods, as you have angered them this morning.

  3. protest says:

    i walked into my local CVS to get some stuff and was told at the register that they were not accepting any CC’s at that time. so i had to do that incredible walk of shame out the door with the people behind me probably stiffling their laughter. couldn’t they have, oh i don’t know, put a sign on the door or something?
    new rule: if CC machines break down your purchase is free.

  4. godai says:

    “You’re $20 bill is never going to give you a connection error.”

    Unless you are trying to buy an iPhone.

  5. anatak says:

    …”I didn’t have any cash, I don’t like to bring my wallet to the gym, and I don’t like to have to futz with lockers).”

    I was also too busy coming up with excuses for not carrying cash to grab either cash, or a debit card.

    Just kidding, Ben. You’re right, though. this is exactly what the credit card companies have been training and brainwashing us into – the only way to pay for purchases is with a _____ Card.

    Don’t be a slave to them. Carry cash. Seriously, TP and Canada Dry? Thats like $5?

  6. leftistcoast says:

    What, they didn’t offer to break out the old roller-receipt machine?

  7. DashTheHand says:

    Cash is also less secure and easier to be robbed of. Cash that is lost or stolen is probably NEVER going to be recovered. Credit cards carry protection for that very instance.

  8. phrygian says:

    @leftistcoast: That’s what I was wondering. Every retail place I’ve ever worked had at least one of the old carbon copy/imprint machines, just in case.

  9. SwampAssJ says:

    Even with the signs you would not believe how many people still try to swipe their cards. I’ve taped a 8×10 letter paper over the keyboard in both English and Spanish saying “The card reader is out of order, please pay inside or select another pump” and I watch between 3-5 people a shift remove the paper and swipe their cards then come in miffed it dosn’t work for them.

  10. Rae12401 says:

    I worked for a major retail chain for 2 years. Whenever we lost our cc machines, we would dig out the old-fashioned cc imprinter, and write out manual receipts with all of the customer’s information, believing in good faith that if there was a problem with the cc when the machine came back online, we could contact the customer. We never had a problem.

  11. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    I was in Panera recently and their CC machines were down — they couldn’t accept CCs or debit cards — cash only (and no ATM nearby). I don’t know exactly how many people left empty-handed, but it seemed like Panera missed out on a lot of sales that night.

  12. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    you could always wipe your butt with your cat

  13. AxeSwinger says:

    Carry a fifty in your wallet if you don’t want to carry a wallet ask you bank for one of their debit card protective envelopes and keep your card and cash there, it’s the same size as a card but you can tuck cash in it as well.

  14. hollerhither says:

    The Whole Foods near me had a system-wide cash register failure two Saturdays ago. First they were going cash-only, then they ran out of cash and had to shut down the store, I literally had to walk away from my cart full of food. The employees were just standing around. It was crazy.

    Emailed a complaint letter to WF HQ a week ago and NO response yet. I want a)an apology and b)a coupon, at the least.

    On the bright side I discovered a great little privately-owned natural foods grocery the next town over. Maybe I won’t need that coupon after all.

  15. the_mdg says:

    I accompanied my wife to an event at Van Andel Museum in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. We are also among the group of people who rarely carry cash (I tend to spend more if I have it with me . . . no self-control). Anyway, there was a $5 charge to enter. We asked if it was cash or check only since there were no signs of any kind. The girl said ‘We’ll take credit cards as a last resort.’ I was pleasantly surprised since it was pouring rain, although we had to WRITE our card info on their receipt form. I guess my point is this: if a small event is able to manually accept CC and process them after-the-fact, why couldn’t a large chain o’ stores?? I mean, the whole purpose of a store is for someone to buy something. I agree, why wouldn’t they put up a sign on the door? What a concept. Idiots.

  16. PinkBox says:

    … or try another store? :P

  17. bohemian says:

    We had something like this happen a few years ago when either code red or some virus like that took down the main ISP in town. Only a few businesses has the ability to process card transactions because they were on different connections. For five days you could not do a card transaction most places and most of the city of almost 175,000 people had no internet.

    At least our main grocery chain had lots of those roller card imprinters so they could still sell food.

    So yea, the big ISP in the region sold their business service to most of the businesses in town and at the same time their NOC was too stupid to update their windows servers and did not have sufficient backups to restore all of their data after they reformatted the servers.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    I understand why a lot of companies or stores don’t use the old manual slide credit card machines. If computers just seem so reliable, then it just doesn’t SEEM like it would be worth it. I mean, they’re just collecting dust, until you actually need them because your system is down. When I worked retail we kept ours around and yeah they were dusty, but when we had problems swiping cards, we just took them out and used them without a problem. Customers weren’t miffed because I think they’d be even more miffed if they had spent time shopping and couldn’t actually make a purchase.

  19. IndyJaws says:

    I am Cornholio! I need TP for my bunghole!

    (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

  20. jamesdenver says:


    It’s called the VAN ANDEL Museum now? Jeez. I hope they don’t rename the Ford Museum the RICHARD DE VOS GERALD FORD Theatre. Anyway sorry off topic comment from a former GR local :)

    href=”#c2806379″>DashTheHand: I would consider security or monetary loss as a reason not to carry cash. I carry less than $100 around, which usually gets me through the week as spending cash. If I’m robbed of my cash the loss of my green is the least of my worries – which brings me to the same situation as the writer: Needing some TP.

    I think I’d RATHER lose $20-$40, than lose my CC and have to call in, wait for it, change the numbers on all my online accounts that use that CC. If you consider then time it’s better to lose a small amount of cash.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    Sort of makes a mockery of the VISA commercials. Be great if the US Treasury did a competing ad showcasing Ben’s experience.

    And Ben, exactly what were you doing last weekend that the Monday after required rolls of toilet paper and selzer water? Buying those off-market X-Lax tabs from friendly strangers at Crobar?

    Next time, remember: it’s X-TC not X-Lax. Jeez.

    Finally, the cat – whose hindquarters are being approached with a very large (tho, recyclable – good job!) bottle – looks very worried.

  22. Nytmare says:

    If manual carbon-copy CC machines are valid backup devices, computers ought to be able to emulate this functionality by simply caching the CC charge requests until the internet connection comes back online. Although you’d still need the imprint machines for power outages.

  23. Why were you at the gym and not at home working?

  24. ry81984 says:

    The worst is when a parking garage does not accept credit.
    I never carry cash and the last time I was in Indy, I parked in a garage.

    Upon leaving I hand my card and the ghetto woman gives me attitude and says they do not take credit in a mean way.

    I was lucky to have toll money in the glove box, but damn. This was the parking garage for the circle center mall and the only place within 3 miles that did not take credit was the parking garage.

    It was very unprofessional for that mall.

  25. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Eeeww. Some of your fellow commenters were grossed out by this. I don’t think the cat would be too pleased by it either.


    Haven’t gotten any flags on this, but I imagine I will in 3…2…1…

  26. ry81984 says:


    You crazy! You would rather loose money than a credit card.

    If you loose your card, its a 2 minute call to cancel it and get a new one in about a week.
    Then you might spend 5 minutes updating any automatic charges online.
    You loose no money when you loose your credit card.

    The only drawback is that it takes a week to get a new one and your stuck using cash or worse using checks for a while.

  27. howie_in_az says:

    Use the cat.

  28. Perhaps I’m paranoid, or just the product of being baby-sat a whole lot by my Depression-surviving, money-hiding grandmother, but I always carry a bit of cash around for just this purpose. In the inside pockets of all my bags I hide, then forget about, between $20 and $50 in cash, just in case.

    This actually has saved me more times than I care to count.

  29. SOhp101 says:

    @ry81984: if you use loose one more time, you’re going to lose your bowels all over the floor.

  30. liquisoft says:


    Those minimum purchases are a pain in the ass and wrong, except for the rare occasion where I’m buying something from a tiny mom&pop store that is unfranchised. In those situations, it’s understandable that they would ask for a minimum purchase amount since the charges they get from the card companies are so ludicrous that they couldn’t possibly cover all of them with $1 transactions.

  31. Starfury says:

    Why don’t people carry cash? Everyone takes it for purchases (except Apple for iPhones)

  32. UpsetPanda says:

    My mom told me I needed to always have cash with me, because if my car broke down and I was in the middle of nowhere and needed food, I’d be SOL if the place I found didn’t take credit.

    There was a movie theater in my college town that was the worst place you could go. It was ghetto to the power of 10. Anyway, their CC machines were always broken so you had to walk across the shopping center parking lot to get to the Bank of America to use their ATM, which charged an arm and a leg. But you wanted to see your movie, what could you do? I went there twice and vowed never to return.

  33. Buran says:

    @Starfury: Because I’d rather not be out the money if someone takes my wallet.

  34. FLConsumer says:

    @ry81984: new card in about a week?!?!? Switch companies. Wachovia overnighted a new Visa card to me after mine got used by the VIP TUNE gang and they even left my old card active until I could receive my new one.

    @liquisoft: I feel similar about the minimum purchases. I won’t stand for it with any larger store, but I’m not willing to stick a Mom & Pop with anything charged unless it’s >$5. Even then, I prefer to hold onto the plastic until I’m up to $10 or more with the Mom & Pops.

  35. ltlbbynthn says:

    I was a cashier at a Toyota dealership, and our CC machine went down all the time. I felt very sketchy using the old carbon-swiping machines b/c it has the whole CC number right on there. It would have been so easy for me to steal customers’ information. I wouldn’t want to use those old machines for anything!

  36. Antediluvian says:

    So [we were] in the grocery store this morning buying three rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of seltzer with a credit card, as [we are] wont to do. (It was on [our] way back from the gym and [we] had brought a credit card just for this purpose. [We] didn’t have any cash, [we] don’t like to bring [our] wallet to the gym, and [we] don’t like to have to futz with lockers).

    After [we] swiped [our] card, [we] watched as a blue bar status bar creeped across the cashier’s screen….
    FTFY,* Ben.

    *Can Gawker’s commenting system please add STRIKEOUT as a style?

  37. FromThisSoil says:

    Hey, it happens.

    I went to a Dunkin Donuts and got an iced coffee and a croissant for breakfast, the made the coffee and packed everything up.

    I handed her the ATM card and she told me “Oh….our machine is down.”

    “I see…so now what? I have no cash.”

    “We have an ATM over there.”

    “That ATM has a $3 surcharge, I’m not going to take out $20 at a cost of $3 to pay for my breakfast that’s under $4…see ya later then…I guess.”

    At that point, shouldn’t she have at least offered me the coffee for free? I mean, it was made already, what are you going to do with it? Throw it out? She did just that.

  38. anyanka323 says:

    I work as a cashier in a grocery store and I am surprised that there are not more incidents similar to Ben’s. Even during slower times, it still takes awhile for the credit/debit purchase to be approved, usually about a minute, but it usually takes longer during peak times. Cash transactions are just so much faster and speeds up the line.

  39. nuch says:

    @liquisoft: I feel very strongly that if a merchant offers the option of using a credit card, they need to offer it across the board, without discrimination based on the amount of purchases. In the terms of their member agreements with Visa and Mastercard they are allowed to offer discounts for customers purchasing with cash (so they can basically raise prices enough to cover the cost of providing credit) but they can not have minimums.

  40. Adam291 says:

    Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I never use a credit or debit card to buy stuff. “They” can track what you bought, when you bought it and where you bought it. If I ever commit a crime, I’m not going to make it easy on the cops to place me.

  41. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS:
    If I have to start moderating my own comments for the sake of cat people, I’m not going ot be very funny
    [checking profile for “ban” symbol]
    so we’re still cool?

  42. Boy Howdy says:

    The term “electromagnet attack” makes me think of a giant crane with a huge one of those horseshoe-shaped red and silver magnets on the end, shooting out cartoon lightning bolts. And that makes me happy.

  43. ratnerstar says:

    In the event of a nuclear attack, I think the lack of functioning credit card machines will be the least of your problems.

  44. Auntie M. says:

    Ever since my wallet was stolen (containing my return train ticket) in downtown Chicago, I routinely keep a $20 bill folded up in my shoe.

  45. cosby says:

    I worked in retail after high school while I started college and our system would allow you to do an override if the credit card system was down. Are general rule of thumb was anything over 50 dollars we had to call in if the system was down. Anything less then that we just do a manaul approval. When the system came back up it would process the cards it had on file. We would also imprimt the card when we had to do this.

    Not sure why the store doesn’t have an imprint machine as a backup. Whoever they use to process cards should have a phone number to process cards. Between that and the imprint machine they are set. For small sales like the one talked about you just imprint and be done with it. Out of the 50 people you imprint and process later what are the chances of more then 1 of them having the card not go through?

    Hell if they really wanted to play it safe call in every order or call in orders say over 20 bucks.

  46. Hambriq says:

    This is news?

  47. balthisar says:

    @anyanka323: Only rinky-dink stores. All of the big chains are virtually instant. And unless you’re a ‘tard, you scan your card while the cashier is ringing up the purchase. No way is cash faster, again, barring rinky-dink places with dialup. Those piss me off, too, because cash would be faster.

  48. jmschn says:

    @hollerhither: are you kidding?? so demanding! a sign of the people who shop at WF…

  49. IndyJaws says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: Ouch – quoting Beavis and Butthead gets the verbal slapdown!

  50. Snakeophelia says:

    I keep a tiny bit of cash hidden in my car.

    Oh, and try having a cart full of groceries and having the card system not work, only the cashier isn’t aware that it’s not working all over the store and she refuses to then take a check from you for the groceries, because if the machine refuses to let your card go through, then CLEARLY it’s because you don’t have any money.

    Thank God I found a manager, who verified that other card machines were not working (the grocery store was not crowded and I was the only customer in line). I even had a check card for that store, so the check itself was not a problem. I was so angry, not over the inconvenience of the card system (I always keep a spare blank check on hand too), but because of the comment from the cashier, verbatim, “Well, if your card’s not working, I’m certainly not going to accept a check from you.”

  51. marciepooh says:

    I have two stories for this. Once I went to the pharmacy to pick a script and their connection was down. The kid swiped my card, twice, it didn’t go through. (He helpfully said “we’re having problems today.”) Then he runs my check through a couple of times. Same deal (duh, the connection’s down) and he looks at me and asks if I have cash. Finally, the pharmacy manager came over and told him to just take checks. They were kind of backed up and I doubt I was the only person without enough cash.

    When I was in college, I went on a long field trip for a class. For some reason the fleet cards didn’t work at the pay-at-the-pump and sometimes didn’t work being swiped inside either. Gas station attendant after another refused to believe he’d have to write up the ticket by hand until he had swiped the card a couple of times. (We also ran into one that didn’t believe that the vans with a university logo on the door had state government tags. He had to check himself.)

  52. skrom says:

    I wish they would just make law that a $20 minimum purchase is required to use a card anywhere. Its ridiculous when people use a card for a 25 cent pack of gum or 75 cent bottle of Coke. Most of the time the store would be better off just giving you the item as they pay more in fees than the item costs. Wake up people, they make cash for a reason. You can use it EVERYWHERE and there are NO FEES. I always keep $100 on me for little purchases or emergencies. Credit/debit should be used for purchases over $20

  53. DanGarion says:

    Is this really news?

  54. saltmine says:

    This happened to me at a bar last week. The CC machines crashed right at last call. They had an ATM, but it too was broken. I just tipped with what little cash I had and left, not my problem.

  55. saltmine says:

    @anyanka323: A minute? Is your grocery store in Soviet Russia? Everywhere I go takes 5-10 seconds, tops.

  56. SOhp101 says:

    @skrom: 25 cent pack of gum? 75 cent bottle of coke? How old are you, and when was the last time you’ve actually purchased those items? Better put on the hearing aid and take your walker the next time you go into a Target!

    Welcome to 2007, where 5 stick pack of gum costs 30 cents (most gum comes in packs of 12-15 and cost at least $1) and 20oz soda bottles cost at least $1.25.

    As for the minimum purchase requirement, that’s against merchant agreements, not the law; the stores agree to not charge a minimum if they want to accept visa/mc. Cards are much faster than checks at least.

  57. skrom says:


    First off, at least where I live you can still get a 5 stick pack of Juicy Fruit for 25 cents, second I didnt say stores should make a mimimum purchase amount I said there should be a LAW that makes a $20 minimum purchase to use a card, thereby skirting the merchant agreement BS. Its just as bad being behind someone wasting time paying for a pack of gum with a card as it is for the little old lady writing a check for it, when you can just flip a quarter on the counter and walk out.

  58. crashman2600 says:

    I went to McDonalds one morning and ordered breakfast, I arrived at the window, handed my card and she said “the machine is down, do you have any cash”? I said no, and she said “Your food is free then, have a nice day.” Pretty Cool I thought.

  59. krom says:

    My GF went to a newly opened restaurant in town and tried to pay with her debit card. The server ran it 2-3 times and came back saying the card was denied. But my programmer GF saw an interesting term on the slip like “protocol error” or “no signal” or something, and urged them to check their system. Took a few insistences (people are strange about listening to technical suggestions from a female) but they ended up finding out that their CC communication line was unplugged.

  60. Scuba Steve says:

    Funny people suggest cash in the event of a nuclear attack. Me, I’m going with the barter system, screw your “cash”.

  61. ecwis says:

    When their credit machine isn’t working, either do it the old fashioned way by taking an imprint of the card, or give it away for free!

    I was at Checker’s/Rally’s once and they couldn’t get their credit card system to work, so they gave me my food for free. :-) One reason I love Rally’s. ha

  62. SOhp101 says:

    @skrom: Paying via card in most major retail outlets takes the same amount of time as cash. slide your card, sign the screen, and then take your receipt. It’s only as slow as the person who doesn’t know how to use it, and there’s plenty of idiots who don’t know how to count change properly either.

    Yes I know you said a LAW but my point was that these guidelines aren’t even mandated by the government–get mad at your retailer for agreeing to the terms of the agreement.

    But you obviously seem like you know how life works so we better start passing laws to appease your gripes. Information regarding the 5 cent increase to 30 cents is in a October 2003 Wrigley press release.

    Better go outside so you can yell at those kids to get off your lawn!

  63. Buran says:

    @Snakeophelia: I would have said, “Well, clearly if you’re too stupid to realize that it’s your crappy computers, I will not accept the opportunity to purchase from you”, and walked out of the store leaving the stuff overflowing the checkout so she had to put it away. When the manager yells at her for it, she can tell the story, then get yelled at some more for her crappy attitude for something not your fault.

  64. skrom says:


    While we are airing gripes another pet peeve of mine is the stupid old ladies that try to use the self checkout lanes and cant figure out how to use the damn things. You should have to have some kind of certification to use those showing that you can scan at least 30 items per minute so you dont hold up the line. They are supposed to be convenient not a family day out like the moms who let their 4 kids scan everything in the heaping cart taking 30 minutes to check out a cart I couldve doen in about 4 minutes. Or the stupid old people that cant figure out how to use a gas pump/atm/post office vending machine/anything with more than 2 buttons. Just because they dont have anything to do doesnt mean the rest of us do. That is why they have regular lanes for those kind of people.

  65. BigNutty says:

    Who expects an electronic device is never going to fail? Carry some cash.

    If the nukes all come out one day forget about your cash and credit cards. Bottled water, canned food and weapons will be the items of value.

  66. willray411 says:

    a $20 bill will give you a connection error if you are trying to buy an iphone

  67. Douglas7 says:

    I’m surprised this store didn’t have a CC’d slide machine backup, they should still be required. The last two banks my work has used the backup was supplied with our machine, even with our small business.
    For larger transactions (ones where it is easy for the card to be tracked to the person by the store) they can be stored on a local server then uploaded when service is back, this is what I’ve done for all the CC transactions I’ve ran.

  68. gingerCE says:

    One time this happened at Costco. Their debit/credit card machines were down so you could only pay with check or cash. There were so many angry customers–a long line around the manager’s office. I think they were trying to complete credit/debit transactions via 3rd party. My cashier was frazzled dealing with all the upset people. When it came to me, my total was a little under a 100 and I handed him 5 twenties. The cashier told me I was his favorite customer of the day. (I sometimes carry cash to Costco in order to prevent me from spending too much there).

  69. sibertater says:

    I actually had to write a check the other day at CostCo. I wasn’t sure if the cashier actually knew what it was…

  70. jesirose says:

    When this happened to us at Subway, they eventually gave us our food free – of course, it was already made and no one was going to buy it later, which doesn’t apply here. But seriously, I would be like, dudes, I need some TP. Gimme a 4-pack at least.

  71. tadowguy says:

    3 Rolls? That doesn’t seem very economical. Are your apartments THAT small in NYC?

  72. FLConsumer says:

    @tadowguy: YES!

  73. hollerhither says:

    No. Are you kidding? What is that supposed to mean?

  74. MostNutsEver says:

    I always carry a small amount of cash on me for things like this, or if you happen to run into a place that doesn’t take credit. Screw credit card marketing, don’t let them tell you how to conduct your own damned business. It only works if you let yourself be trained by it.

  75. Froggmann says:

    This is why I have gone back to paying with cash. On top of easier money management (I KNOW how much I can spend in a week) you don’t succumb to the pitfalls of non-working credit machines or demagnetized CCs.

  76. niccernicus says:

    @anatak: “Don’t be a slave to them. Carry cash. Seriously, TP and Canada Dry? Thats like $5?”

    So, if you’re like me, and don’t carry cash, a $5 purchase w/ cash turns into a larger ordeal. You have to go to an ATM, pay the fee unless you are a member, get out a minimum of $20, then carry change around that would otherwise be in your checking/debit account.

    So, a quick $5 purchase on a debit card has now cost $5 + $2 (atm fee) + what 20 minutes of your time is worth + whatever you blow the last $15 dollars on.

    That’s right, I don’t carry cash to save myself money on frivilous purchases. Plan works great. Can’t believe how much money I save.

  77. anatak says:

    @n1ckel5: No, I’m not like you. I use cash for most purchases. Cash comes out once at the beginning of the month and filtered into envelopes. Going to the gym and need to pick up TP and canada dry? Grab your cash from the appropriate envelope and go. Not real hard or inconvenient.

    ATM fee? You seriously pay ATM fees? Thats just another part of the slavery – paying to use your own money.

  78. mrearly2 says:

    Get ready for a lot more disappointment– The plan is to turn America into a “cashless society”.

  79. jesirose says:

    Lots of banks now refund ATM fees, and you can take out more than $20 since you’re going to need more later.

    That being said, I haven’t carried cash in so long, I haven’t even had an ATM or Debit card in 4 years. The subway I referenced earlier – first time it was ever a problem, and because I didn’t carry cash, I got free food. Win-win!

  80. Johann says:

    I don’t carry any cash at all, however I always carry a spare roll of TP.

  81. j3s says:

    >>So I was in the grocery store this morning buying three rolls of toilet paper and a bottle of seltzer with a credit card, as I am wont to do.

    As I am wont to do?

    Uh… wut?

    Can someone translate this into non-Engrish for me, please?

  82. JAYEONE says:

    @CantSayNo: please see @Antediluvian

    PS “wont” is not Engrish!