Traders in Southwold claim profits hit due to card payment machine problems
Business owners in Southwold say they have lost hundreds of pounds in trade after they were unable to take credit or debit card payments during one of the busiest shopping weekend of the year.
About 20 stores in the town centre experienced intermittent problems with payment machines over Christmas and New Year which caused long queues and led to customers leaving their shopping at the till.
The fault was first reported last Friday and most firms were not up and running again until New Year's Day.
Traders contacted BT, which is responsible for the infrastructure, and their individual card machine providers but both struggled to pinpoint where the cause of the fault lay. The problems included card machines taking up to six attempts to process a payment, or rejecting a card altogether.
The issue was complicated by the fact that each business uses a different card machine provider and bank.
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However, they all access the service via the BT network.
Vanessa Collen, at Collen & Clare in Market Place, estimated her takings were down at least 15pc as a result of the fault and said she would be seeking compensation from whoever was responsible. She said: 'From the day the problem started I was like a dog with a bone trying to find out what the cause of it was.
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'I telephoned BT relentlessly and had them run checks over the telephone lines and they said there was nothing wrong. Neither BT nor the card machine supplier would admit there was a problem.
'They were sending everybody back and forth between the two of them. Every time I made a phone call it was time wasted.'
She added: 'Business has been affected substantially and we won't have the opportunity to get that back. Southwold will be empty in a few days time and people won't be back until half-term or Easter.'
The Serena Hall Gallery in Queen Street also saw a drop in takings of at least 15pc.
Pauline Strickland, who works at the gallery, said: 'We've lost sales because of this. We are an art gallery, so the things we sell go from about £10 up to several thousand pounds.
'When you have got customers spending five or six thousand pounds you can't expect them to go across the road and get cash out.'
She said she had also spent a lot of time on the phone to BT and the gallery's card provider.
She added: 'We are actually talking now about the whole lot of us getting together and demanding compensation for the lost trade and wasted time.'
Among the other businesses reporting issues were Daddy Longlegs shoe shop and Gone Crabbing clothing and gifts in High Street, Nutters delicatessen in East Street and Thomas Traddles Menswear in Queen Street, which all lost trade.
Nutters' owner Louise Stroyan said: 'By next week, the holidaymakers will have gone and Southwold will be dead until summer time. We need to be taking credit cards during this busy period.
'It was embarrassing when I had to put a card through two or three times. People were waiting and I had to apologise.
'Most people were very nice and understanding about it. They realised it was out throughout the whole town.'
Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold and District Chamber of Trade, said businesses were discouraged from reporting faults to BT because they faced an expensive call-out fee if an engineer attended and no problem was found.
He said he had tried to report the issue as a single case on behalf of chamber members but was told by BT that each individual customer would have to log their own fault.
Mr Mitchell, who runs High Tide and Southwold Post Office and Toys, also known as Spots, agreed to pay for an engineer to attend, as did Collen & Clare.
He said he was still waiting for feedback from the visit and urged BT to change the way it dealt with the reporting of faults.
He said: 'If 20 people turned up at James Paget Hospital all with a similar rash, the hospital wouldn't treat them all on an individual basis. They would say 'There is a problem here and we need to find out what is going on'.
'BT insisted on treating us on an individual basis. Their systems don't allow them to do it any other way.'
A BT spokesman said it was unaware of any problems with the network and an engineer had visited the area to carry out tests but reported no issues.
He said only Collen & Clare and Spots had reported faults, on December 30 and 31.