The overhauled ChooseCBR scheme will be down for a week after the site plagued with technical difficulties left many businesses disappointed as customers walked out the door.
Minister for business Tara Cheyne said the ACT government would continue to work with businesses to ensure vouchers that have been honoured are reimbursed.
"I know this news will be a huge disappointment to businesses who have been preparing for and promoting the program and customers who have wholeheartedly supported it," Ms Cheyne said.
"Work continued throughout last night to try to resolve the issues. It is now clear this will take longer than anticipated.
"We are very conscious of the inconvenience and frustration this has caused to both businesses and customers, despite our best efforts to fix the problems to date.
"Work on the system will focus on the database to increase its ability to deal with the very large volume of customer and business activity that we have experienced."
ChooseCBR paused for a further 7 days.— ACT Government (@actgovernment) June 10, 2021
As you are aware, we took the ChooseCBR website offline yesterday to address the technical issues.
We had hoped taking the site down would allow us to fully resolve these issues and prevent further frustrations for businesses and customers. pic.twitter.com/VeE5EGtdz0
Several businesses across Canberra reported issues processing the discount vouchers from Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
But customers have managed to spend $300,000 of the allocated $2 million for the scheme, which is almost the entire amount spent in the three-week December trial of the scheme.
Businesses and customers who have signed up to the scheme were initially sent an email and text message to inform them the website would be down until 7am Friday.
But on Friday morning the ACT government said it would be down for a further seven days, reopening on Friday 18 June.
Businesses have welcomed the scheme but were disappointed by the turbulent start, with one grocer opting to stop accepting vouchers.
Deakin IGA alerted customers with a sign on the window saying "the system is unreliable and causes too much distress to our staff and customers".
Brodburger Kingston manager Hugh Mackay said it had been an "absolute nightmare" since the ACT government's scheme launched on Wednesday.
Customers had walked away from the store as a result, Mr Mackay said, as the business had only been able to accept five vouchers in two days.
"I try to accept it because I want to convey to each customer that I'm putting in the effort," he said.
"But it just buffers or loads."
Limelight Cinemas operations director Michael Singh said while it was a "fantastic" program which had pushed Canberrans to get out and spend, technical problems meant many gave up. He hoped those customers would return when the website did.
"We've promoted it to our members ... but also through our social media," he said.
"We've screamed out [about it], but we can't honour it. It's a little disappointing."
Mr Singh welcomed the decision to pause the program, which "finally" gave customers and businesses clarity.
We have made the difficult decision to take the #ChooseCBR site offline until 7am on Friday 11 June to address outstanding issues and ensure reliability.— Tara Cheyne MLA (@In_The_Taratory) June 10, 2021
Since launching yesterday, the website has continued to experience intermittent technical issues. pic.twitter.com/YX4dcxWE3X
The website crashed again on the second day of the ACT government's scheme, after it was also down for several hours on launch day.
The issues that emerged on Wednesday related to capacity issues, with the site overwhelmed by high amounts of users. On Wednesday night, work was done to increase the capacity to the maximum possible amount.
But ACT Business Minister Tara Cheyne said new issues started to emerge on Thursday morning, relating to the site's database. She said the decision was made to take it offline until 7am Friday.
"The preference was to take it offline to give it a large-scale fix," Ms Cheyne said.
Despite technical difficulties hounding customers and retailers in the first 48 hours, uptake of the scheme had exceeded expectations.
Ms Cheyne said the government had not anticipated such high demand and was apologetic for the issues.
"Since yesterday over $300,000 in vouchers have been redeemed which is extraordinary, I think it's fair to say the popularity of the program has far exceeded our expectations," she said.
"If there were not issues with the website this would be a major success story. This is extremely regrettable and we are doing everything we can over the next 15 hours to make sure that we can provide a much better experience for everybody."
Ms Cheyne said businesses that had accepted vouchers from customers but had not been able to redeem them would be given instructions on how to be reimbursed. Several businesses had collected codes from customers to add manually when the system was fixed.
"I can stress we will be honouring these and we've sent out instructions to businesses," she said.
But the Canberra Liberals have slammed the scheme, with ACT opposition business spokeswoman Leanne Castley saying it was an unfair administrative burden for businesses.
Ms Castley, who was highly critical of the trial, doubled down on her criticism on Thursday.
"This scheme has failed," she said.
"It's an absolutely useless scheme if nobody can log in to register. I'm really disappointed for small businesses."
IN OTHER NEWS:
The scheme was first trialled in December but fell well short of expectations with only $310,000 of the $500,000 available used over the three-week period.
The overhauled scheme offers discounts of up to 50 per cent, subsidised by the ACT government. Customers would get $10 off when at least $20 is spent, $20 off when at least $40 is spent and $50 off when at least $100 is spent.
The vouchers can only be accessed online. Those with a smart phone can sign in to the website and show the QR code to be scanned at retailers. There is not an Apple or Google app for the vouchers.
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