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Rogers outage caused big drop in revenue for many businesses; uncertainty about compensation

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People use electronics outside a coffee shop in Toronto amid a nationwide Rogers outage on Friday. COLE BURSTON, THE CANADIAN PRESS

While it was business as usual at some retailers and dining establishments during last Friday’s network system failure at Rogers Communications, others, such as a Mexican restaurant in Sidney, said “adios” to 40 per cent of their sales on what is typically their best day of the week.

The network system failure might have been an inconvenience for customers, who had no access to their phones or internet, but for businesses who depend on debit and credit card payments for goods and services, the outage meant lost revenue.

“The outage couldn’t have happened at a worst time — on a weekend in the summer,” said Michael Ghaly, owner of Taco Shell, a Mexican restaurant on Beacon Avenue in Sidney. “Business was down 40 per cent on Friday, which really hurts our bottom line.”

He said that the outage only affected debit cards — credit cards were fine — and he took to social media to let his customers know. But takeout calls were down, as was foot traffic.

Cash sales usually only comprise five to 10 per cent of his business.

For Erin Boggs, co-owner of Robinson’s Outdoor Store, this was the second time in a year that she has been hit with technical difficulties at the till. Previously she underwent several hours unable to accept credit or debit transactions when her payment processing system, managed by Chase Merchant Services, crashed.

“It’s never a good time, but we are lucky to have customers who were super understanding,” said Boggs. “We were able to put aside some purchases for customers to return with payment at a later time.”

She said that the company has met to strategize on what to do in the future as it dawns on businesses that as far as payment systems go, they have all their eggs in one basket.

“We’re asking ourselves: ‘What’s the solution?’ We may not necessarily have an answer.”

She said that customers paying for their purchases in cash is a rarity. She would welcome more cash purchases as, like most businesses, the store has to pay a processing fee on credit or debit card transactions.

At Beacon Drive In on Friday, ice cream cones were flying out the door unabated.

“About 99.9 per cent of the people on Friday had heard about the outage,” said Sonu Kumar, assistant manager of the popular diner.” Only four or five people were unable to pay.”

While he was unable to process debit cards all day, he was still able to accept payment with a credit card. About 30 per cent of his customers pay with cash.

The City of Victoria’s on-street pay stations were offline due to the outage, with drivers unable to pay for their parking.

Should a person receive a parking ticket because they were unable to pay, they can complain to the city.

“We will be reasonable and review complaints on a case-by-case basis,” said Colleen Mycroft, manager of executive operations.

The city reported a few problems relating to payments at Crystal Pool, but was otherwise not overly affected by the outage.

Across Canada, small-business owners said they fear Rogers won’t fully compensate them for losses during the outage, which extended into the weekend for many.

“I’ve heard all sorts of stories of hundreds or thousands of dollars in business losses as a result,” said Dan Kelly, president and chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

Rogers chief executive Tony Staffieri apologized Friday for the outage caused by a network system failure following a maintenance update. He promised customers would be credited for the downtime.

Asked for more specifics around the compensation, Rogers did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but its RogersHelps Twitter account tweeted to some customers that the credit will be “equivalent to two days of service” and automatically applied to accounts.

Interac, which the debit system, did not respond to an email asking if it would provide compensation to customers.

Kelly feels business owners should be given a free month of Rogers service to make up for the outage that came as companies are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are businesses in Canada that have been closed down for over 400 days all together in some parts of Canada over the last two years, and so every single day of sales is absolutely critical in this recovery period,” he said. “It was just brutal … and far more than an inconvenience. This was cutting into very limited income at a very critical period.”

Elektra Simms estimates her Morning Parade Coffee Bar in Toronto lost a few hundred dollars because many customers went in search of another place to work from because the café’s Wi-Fi was impacted by the outage. With debit services down too, Simms told many regulars who couldn’t pay they could cover their purchase next time they visited.

Many have since returned, but that doesn’t recoup what she’s lost from people who would have lingered at the café longer had there been internet.

“At a time like this, when small businesses have struggled so much … it’s just another thing that impacts your bottom line,” she said. “Businesses like ours don’t have that wiggle room anymore.”

Colin Pearce, the Toronto owner of information technology business Inderly, heard that refrain repeatedly Friday.

“We had some in some locations where Rogers is the only internet available to them and there are no alternatives … but as the outage dragged on, we did have some client locations that had to shut down.”

Many of those locations are very busy and closing them resulted in thousands lost, he said.

He’s heard Rogers will credit businesses for two days of lost service, which he estimates to be about $6 off the typical bill.

Pearce said he doesn’t think Rogers should have to cover thousands of dollars in lost revenue, but $6 is not commensurate to the impact some businesses faced.

parrais@timescolonist.com

Note to readers: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect name for the City of Victoria's manager of executive operations.