There’s no doubt that technology is both the blessing and the curse of modern life – and modern consumer PR. Ronn Torossian says the latest brand to learn this lesson the hard way is Home Depot. The home improvement giant certainly benefits from allowing customers to pay with plastic, as do most retailers. But the company has released a statement saying as many as 56 million payment cards “may have been” compromised due to a “massive cyber breach” of the businesses’ payment network.
That’s a lot of frustrated home improvers. The breach, which now holds the dubious title of “Worse than Target,” has consumers reconsidering the convenience versus risk associated with plastic payments.
According to the report, Home Depot said “customized malware” may have been present on its network as far back as April 2014. They discovered the breach on September 2. Worse, the company had to find out about the breach after industry watchdogs publicized information from banks associated with the network. That set off a firestorm of questions Home Depot was woefully ill equipped to answer. Now, weeks after the fact, the company’s PR team has released its first lengthy statement.
The report did stipulate that only brick and mortar stores were affected. According to the release, no online buyers were put at risk. While Home Depot claims the malware has been removed and is no longer a risk, consumers are still concerned. Now two major US retailers have been successfully infiltrated, so smart money says more will fall sooner rather than later.
These entirely valid concerns should trigger next steps for every major American retailer that accepts credit or debit cards. First, they should step up their protection and detection efforts, not leaving it to outsiders and banks to catch the digital bad guys. Second, the companies need to redouble their communication efforts to assure their customers of the safety of their networks. Details aren’t necessary—the average consumer wouldn’t understand them anyway. But simple and clear reassurances are necessary. Because the next big box store to get hit may trigger plummeting consumer trust that would take years to fully recover.