Small Businesses Challenged by Square Outage

Centralized technology has its downsides

Square POS system
Square's technology has become a common sight in recent years.
Liz Hafalia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The days of massive cash registers, complete with drawers full of bills and coins that opened with a jingle, being ubiquitous are no more — but is that a good thing? It’s become more and more common to walk into a shop or restaurant and see a familiar and streamlined kiosk behind the counter, indicating that the business is using Square as its point of sale system.

As someone who’s used Square systems a few times over the years, it isn’t hard to see why its hardware and software are so appealing. But there’s one potential downside: if there’s a problem with the infrastructure that Square (and its parent company Block) depends on, that can have substantial effects for businesses, workers and customers around the country.

That nightmare scenario is precisely what occurred last week. As Bettina Makalintal recounted at Eater, the outage left a number of businesses temporarily shifting into a cash-only configuration. Makalintal noted that the outage was especially challenging for restaurants, as Square’s software can be used to keep track of inventory, handle staffing matters and more.

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On September 8, Square updated its status page for the United States with a response to the outage. “We understand how important it is to have your business tools fully operational, and for this reason, our engineering team is currently engaged in discussions to prevent similar disruptions from happening in the future,” the company wrote. “We sincerely thank you for your patience as our team worked to resolve this issue, and we apologize for any inconvenience this disruption may have caused to your business.”

It’s an illustration of one of the downsides of certain tools that many businesses have adopted. Something similar took place earlier this year, when an Amazon Web Services issue took large portions of the internet temporarily offline. If your business relies on Square, it might be useful to establish a backup plan in case of another outage somewhere down the line. That giant cash register might look clunky, but it also works when the internet is down.

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