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Blocking Websites from Employees

This is probably one of the topics I hear the most.  There’s always a huge toil as to whether or not to have Internet access at a resale store.  There are pros and cons.  In my professional experience, the pros far outweigh the cons – only if your system is configured by an experienced, competent, certified IT professional though. (like The Computer Peeps!!!)

Let’s first address some of the cons to having Internet access at your store:

  • Viruses
  • Employees abusing Internet privileges
  • Data Security

The pros to having Internet access at your store:

  • Technical support can be provided via the Internet
  • Updates can be easily installed (e.g. Windows, your consignment software, etc.)
  • You can integrate your consignment software with an online shopping cart
  • You can send emails from your consignment software
  • You can harness the power of sites such as eBay, Craig’s List, and yes, even Facebook

To get straight to the point, having Internet access can save you money.  How?  The Computer Peeps can manage and support your computers and network over the Internet.  Since local techs A) don’t know consignment software and how technology relates to it and B) tend to charge an arm and a leg, utilizing The Computer Peeps for your technology needs will save you money…and frustration.  So that’s one of my favorite reasons why your store could benefit from having Internet access.

But Dean, I don’t want my employees monkeying around on Facebook all day!

I hear that one all the time.  In my personal opinion, I think having an open, liberal employee policy will set the stage for mature, responsible employees.  I’m also not a complete moron and I know humans tend to take advantage whenever possible.  So there has to be a happy medium.

Restricting/blocking Internet access is easier than you think.  Don’t make the mistake of going with a product such as NetNanny.  I’m not trying to dog that company, but I’m an IT professional and I know the real way to get things done.  If you already have Internet access (especially if you have WiFi), you probably already have a router.Netgear Router A router serves a few purposes:

  • It allows you to share one Internet connection with multiple computers
  • Virtually all routers also function as a firewall
  • You can configure the router to block certain sites and/or keywords, based on a schedule

This is how IT professionals secure a network.  Since everyone isn’t an IT professional, software companies have developed programs (see: NetNanny) to try to help end-users secure their systems.  Think of it like this: you could either have a professional install a fancy alarm system in your car or you could try and do it yourself.  Since you probably don’t know all the details  as to how to install an alarm system, you’ll either end up taking shortcuts or finding some “cheap way” of doing so.

Would you renovate your kitchen by yourself, if you’ve never done it before?  Would you replace the brakes on your car by yourself?  Would you replace your roof by yourself?  Unfortunately, by having programs out there that attempt to replicate what an IT professional should handle, it leads to the illusion of, “oh, I can just do this myself.”  This is your business we’re talking about here.  Are you saying your business isn’t worth doing things the right way?

I know how you feel though.  There’s no one to turn to, there’s so much information out there…it’s almost like this stuff is complicated on purpose!  Well, it sort of is on purpose!  This is Information Technology!  🙂

So if you’re going to be online, you need a router – even if it’s a single computer, you need a router with a firewall inside.  Don’t let anyone tell you any different.  If you find someone that tells you differently, have them call us.

So most of your issues are already solved, just by having a router!

I love routers because they make it easy to create a single-point of security for your network.  This forces all of your computers to abide by the security and settings outlined in your router.  Plus, a router is a dedicated device as opposed to bogging your computer(s) down with programs.  Even worse, security programs are updated on a regular basis and this can lead to unexpected issues.  You just can’t afford to walk in one day, only to find your consignment software won’t open because a security program was updated.

Let’s take a closer look at the settings available in most routers.  Most routers have a Block Sites (or equivalent) option…

Netgear Block Sites

The problem is, most people don’t know how to “get to their router”.  Do you walk over to it and plug a keyboard into it?  Nope.  This is one of the first reasons why IT professionals should handle this sort of stuff.  At the end of this article, I’ve included the steps on how to get to your router.  I don’t want to overwhelm everyone with nerdy details though.  It’s not difficult to do, but most get two words into and fall asleep. It’s not so complicated that it requires hundreds of dollars spent on a tech or hours to configure.

So that knocks out the majority of the issues a resale store is concerned with – blocking Websites or certain types of Websites.

Another handy feature available in most routers, is the ability to block sites/keywords based on a schedule.  Instead of blocking Facebook completely, maybe you could let the employees access Facebook the first hour that you’re open…

After an hour (if you open at 11), it’s blocked for the remainder of the day! (if you close at 5)

The Block Sites feature in many routers also provides other settings that make this such a handy feature.  You can allow specific computers to have access – e.g. your computer.  You can also configure the router to email you activity, either when someone attempts to access a blocked site or a log file summary at the end of the day.

That still won’t stop someone with a smart phone – e.g. an Android device, iPhone, Blackberry, etc.  These devices connect via 3G and do not require a WiFi connection to browse the Web.  So you have to be ready to deal with a certain amount of “well, technology can’t fix everything!”  I’m of the philosophy that if you try to force people to do something, they might heed your warnings for a while, but it will eventually lead to dissension.  I don’t want to get on a philosophical rant here, but technology is not a policy maker.  Hiring smart, educated, respectable employees is something business owners have to deal with, with or without technology.  If you look at a company like Google (yes, I know we’re not all multi-billion dollar companies), you’ll see that a certain amount of freedom goes a long way.  There’s a smarter way to manage people, rather than just “shutting everything down”.  But I digress…

So, let’s recap:

  • You probably already own and utilize a router/firewall.  If you don’t, go buy one today.  If you need to know which to buy, just call The Computer Peeps.  Routers are very inexpensive, yet the yield a wealth of security and features that can help your business.
  • Routers can help you block specific sites or keywords
  • Routers can notify you if someone attempts to access a blocked site
  • You can allow specific computers – e.g. your own – and block/restrict others
  • Technology is a tool to help your business, it is not the end all, be all of policy though – that’s up to you.

There are a few other tricks to blocking sites, but they’re not absolute.  I don’t want to get too geeky, but I sort of have to on this one.  There is a “hosts” file that resides on Windows-based computers.  You can edit this file and manually block/redirect specific sites.  Most people don’t know about this file, which is good for you – it means employees won’t know how to edit the file.  People are getting savvier with PCs though, so if someone has a little bit of computer knowledge, they will know about the “hosts” file, thus, it can be defeated.  It’s free though and it’s a neat little trick.  You can also use a service such as OpenDNS.  Since the Internet works off of names (e.g. Facebook.com) resolving to IP addresses, you can use OpenDNS to block/redirect specific sites as well.  It’s a free service, which I love.  I think everyone should use OpenDNS for their name servers (sorry, geeky, I know) since it helps keep out phishing/malicious sites.  For the purpose of this article though, it’s a little fallible.  It requires that you log in to their site, add your network’s IP address, etc..  So it’s handy, but it’s not perfect.  I’ll discuss OpenDNS in a separate article.

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Note:

At the beginning of this article, I said I’d show everyone how to log in to a router.  I just want to show that this is not some crazy geek thing, nor does it require hundreds of dollars to pay someone to figure this out.  It’s not for the faint of heart though, so if this is over your head, don’t feel left out.

  1. Click Start
  2. Click Run (or in Windows Vista or 7, just click in the “Search” field under the Start menu)
  3. Type cmd
  4. Click OK or press Enter on your keyboard.  You should now see a command prompt that looks similar to this…

    command prompt

  5. Type ipconfig /all and then press Enter (notice there’s a space after g and before /).  You should see a list of network information similar to this…

    ipconfig

  6. Scroll through the list of information and look for the Default Gateway line…

    Make note of the IP address for your Default Gateway.  In my example, it would be 174.164.1.1.

  7. Launch your Internet browser and type that IP address into the Address Bar (make sure you type it into the Address Bar, not a Bing, Google or some other “search” field.

    IP in Address Bar

  8. Once you click Go or Enter, you should be prompted to enter a user name and password…

    Router login

    Hopefully your router’s password has been changed from the default password it came with!!!

  9. Once you click OK, you’re logged in!

    Router management

That wasn’t too difficult, was it!?  I don’t expect everyone to run out and do this.  I just wanted to show that it’s possible, it isn’t difficult and if you already have a router, you have security settings you should be taking advantage of.

Recommended Consignment Hardware for Consignment/Resale Stores

Consignment hardware can be a difficult maze to negotiate.  When you’re just getting started, it can be confusing (to say the least) trying to weed through all the details.  Which computer should I buy, which printers do I need, is this scanner compatible, etc.  This post will discuss the consignment hardware that will make any consignment store owner’s life a little easier.  All of the consignment hardware items you see on this page can be purchased directly from The Computer Peeps.  Before you purchase from your consignment software vendor, compare their prices to ours.  Compare their consignment software to ours.  We can save you both time and money.  Why buy consignment hardware for twice the price?

I think most will agree, tags are where it all starts.  The tag is what the customer sees, so you want it to look nice, clean and professional.  Also, printing bar codes from your consignment software provides you with inventory control.  While you can print tags from a laser or ink jet printer, let’s get serious here – you’re running a business and you want to do things the right way.  It is for this reason that we think any consignment store should start out with a good thermal tag printer.

Consignment Hardware Tag Printer
Thermal Tag Printer

Many avoid purchasing a thermal tag printer simply because they tend to cost too much.  Unfortunately, you’ll find that many mark-up these printers way too much.  This is why we carry professionally refurbished thermal tag printers.

There are definitely concerns when you purchase a previously owned printer, but if you buy from a reputable seller, you can save a LOT of money!    Do we recommend just going out and buying any refurbished/previously owned printer you come across?  No.  There are some key questions that need to be asked and it’s important you buy from a legitimate seller/business.  We’ve had many clients buy 2 or 3 printers before contacting us.

Consignment Point of Sale Barcode Scanner
Barcode Reader

The next piece of hardware I think every resale store should have is a bar code scanner.  In case you don’t know what this is, it’s the little hand-held device you see at virtually any retail location.  Instead of the employee manually entering item numbers, you just scan the bar code and the item is entered into POS (or whichever screen you’re working in – you can use the scanner to post items, lookup items, etc.)  A bar code scanner makes checkout a fast and easy process.  It also reduces (if not completely omits) mistakes at POS.  You don’t want an employee selling one item when it’s really supposed to be another.  A bar code scanner really should cost more than about $100 or so.  Some are less than $100, some are a little more.  Again, and sadly, some mark-up these devices so much that many think they just can’t afford one.  The great thing about a bar code scanner is, it’s such a basic device – like a mouse or keyboard.  There’s no installation (just plug it in) and there’s very little configuration.

Consignment point of sale receipt printer
Thermal Receipt Printer

The last of the “holy trinity” of POS devices, so to speak, is the receipt printer.  This is one device that you can live without at first.  If it were me though, I’d go ahead and get all three – a tag printer, bar code scanner and a receipt printer.  The reason you can live without one at first is, most of the consignment software programs let you print receipts to any printer.  While it might not be a nice, slim receipt, it’s a receipt.  I think the main reason resale store owners avoid receipt printers (or hardware in general), is the cost.  That’s why we’re here though!  If you have the right consultant (eh hem, us!) you can get all of the core devices for what one would pay for a tag printer alone!  There’s a reason all of this isn’t nice and buttoned up in one place (well, until now) – because people make a lot of money of this stuff!  If we can help resale stores get the right hardware (used or new) and help get it setup the right way from day 1, it means more businesses can focus on providing a great service.  A resale store shouldn’t have to fork over $1,000 for hardware alone.  It’s just not worth it for the “assurance” that it works.

A cash drawer is pretty important piece to the POS puzzle.  Some might argue that it’s not needed at first, but where the heck are you going to keep your cash and checks!  🙂  Again, these can be purchased for far less than most are used to seeing.  It’s important to not just buy any drawer you see though.  These devices work directly with the receipt printer, so compatibility is paramount.

Don’t forget your reports/check printer either!  This isn’t as critical as far as, you don’t need to be too worried about which device you purchase.  Something that’s worth pointing out is, go with a laser printer vs. ink-jet.  You’re going to be printing checks and reports in black and white, so you don’t need to run out and buy a new color laser printer.  Don’t consider this printer an “all purpose” printer though.  You want to invest in a solid laser printer, one that will be dedicated to printing checks and reports.  They’re only about $100 so it’s not a huge investment.  Dedicating the printer to just those tasks, will extend the life of the printer and reduce headaches.  For printing everything else (e.g. notes to post around the shop, coupons for the front counter, etc.), grab an inexpensive ink-jet printer.  You could even go with a color laser printer if you want crisp, sharp printing.  They’re not as expensive as they used to be (now approximately $200-$300).  The key is, leave the black and white laser printer for printing reports and checks, that’s it.

One piece of hardware that many don’t consider (because it’s not one of the “obvious” pieces) is an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).  This is basically a surge protector + an internal battery.  Computers do not like to be interrupted by power outages.  A power outage can corrupt data and lead to damages that can’t be recovered from (not for cheap, that is).  They’re so inexpensive – about $50-$60.  I have one on every system here in our home office – even our TV/entertainment center.  It’s one of the best investments you can make and it will save you from a major headache.

There are other devices – e.g. credit card swipe, PIN pad, pole display, etc. – which aren’t required.  The credit card swipe is so inexpensive though and if you’re going to accept credit cards, then much like a bar code scanner prevents mis-keyed items, a mag(netic) swipe will make credit card processing a breeze.

Whew!  That was supposed to be a quick rundown on POS hardware devices and look what it turned into!  Boy can I talk/type!  🙂  Just in case you missed anything, let’s recap:

[checklist]

  • Get a thermal tag printer.  You don’t need to spend upward of $500 – you can get great, refurbished printers.  It will make your inventory management much easier and it makes for a professional looking appearance.
  • Grab a bar code scanner as well.  For the price of an expensive meal for two, you can get a scanner that prevents employees from making mistakes during checkout.  It’s also another component that makes for a professional appearance.  Instead of wrestling tags to get the item #, just *bam* scan the tag and move on.  I know I don’t like to stand in lines and wait.  😉
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t afford a receipt printer!  If you know where to shop (and we can help you with that), you can get the final piece to the POS puzzle.  A nice receipt is the cherry on top of the inventory life/sales cycle.
  • Get a UPS!!!  You can’t afford to lose your data just because someone tripped over a power cable or switched off a power strip.
  • While you’re at it (and since they’re so inexpensive), pickup a credit card swipe (mag swipe).  Accepting credit cards is pretty much a given these days.  A mag swipe makes processing payments quick and accurate.

[/checklist]

I could get into backups (e.g. to USB Flash Drives) in this article, but I want to keep this to just POS hardware (the UPS being the one exception).  If anyone has ANY questions, feel free to ask!

I hope this sheds some light on the POS hardware selection fiasco most new store owners face!

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