Carphone Warehouse stores across the country were temporarily unable to put post-pay contracts through their systems or process top-ups last Thursday, after a fire scare at the company’s headquarters.
Carphone’s network was taken offline, with hundreds evacuated from the headquarters in Acton, west London.
Frustrated retail staff were unable to access existing customers’ details, check their emails, sell prepay airtime or process new contracts. Meanwhile, Acton-based employees were evacuated at around 11am as fire crews spent the morning checking the building.
A spokesman for Carphone described the events at the company’s headquarters as a ‘minor electrical incident’. He said: ‘No-one was hurt. It just affected some of the servers. For a few hours, we weren’t able to trade, but customers coming into stores were still able to order, and then have their phones delivered to their homes later on. We’re prepared for these eventualities.’
The nearest pub to the retailer’s HQ, The Castle, appeared to be the main beneficiary of the disruption with around 200 head office staff seeking a warm refuge before fire crews gave the building the all-clear.
The landlady of The Castle, Cigdem Aitkins, said most of the staff were well behaved with only a few indulging in some festive cheer. She said: ‘We sold more soft drinks and coffees. I don’t think they really wanted to drink because there were a few managers about. They got a call at about 1pm saying they had to go back to work, but when they came back in the afternoon, they had a couple of drinks.’
One witness said hundreds of HQ employees had been sent home, and while some staff returned to work, an undisclosed number took the afternoon off.
Staff in stores across the country reported that their computers were back online by 3:30pm.
The following day, a Carphone manager commented: ‘It shouldn’t have been a problem for stores. I wouldn’t say that it affected our trade massively.’
Carphone bosses later contacted all stores to apologise for the system failure and to remind staff of the importance of being familiar with their emergency procedures. The memo also reassured staff that bonuses and commissions would not be negatively affected.