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"Retail Computer System Configuration Checklist with 21 Critical Steps for a Reliable Computer System in the Retail Environment"

- By Bob Twain

Overlooking important configuration aspects is one of the most common and critical mistakes that retailers make (even if you hire a professional). These mistakes can cost you thousands of dollars in wasted time and money. And even worse... it can frustrate your customers.

Very rarely do I walk into a retail store that has a properly configured computer system with all the precautions taken. And if you don't take these precautions (that I'm about to tell you about), it's only a matter of time until your system goes down for hours, days, or even weeks!

Whether you already have a retail computer system or you're going to configure one yourself -- it's important for you to make sure everything is done properly.

That's why I created a checklist for you to follow that will help you improve reliability and avoid downtime -- even if you hired a professional to make sure everything was covered!

Please don't let me give you the wrong message. I don't recommend configuring your own computer system! I always recommend letting a professional do the work. But I know some of you will do it yourself no matter what I say. So this is for those of you that insist on doing your own computer system and for everyone else to double check and make sure everything was done properly. This could help you avoid some major problems and save hours of precious time.

So here's your retail computer system configuration checklist for a Windows network:

1) Install a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)
The number one cause of electronic component failure is from fluctuations in electricity (up and down). A good UPS can solve this problem by regulating the power. I recommend that you at least put a good UPS on your server. And it's a good idea to use them on all your workstations too.

2) Plug All Your Cables Into the UPS
Make sure all cables that power your computer and network are plugged into your UPS. It's also important to make sure cables that can carry electrical charges are plugged into a surge protector or UPS. For example, the phone line for your modem can fry your computer if it's not plugged into a surge protector. So make sure your modem line, network cables, and power cords are all plugged in properly.

3) Configure Your Network
If you have multiple computers that need to access your retail software, then you'll need a network. I'm not going to explain exactly how to do this because an explanation goes well beyond the scope of this article. But I should point out that you will also need to contact your retail software providers to learn how you need the network configured. For example, your software could require mapped network drives.

4) Disable Simple File Sharing
In most situations I have found it best to disable Simple File Sharing on your Windows network, but you should check with your POS software provider for their recommendation.

5) Passwords and Security
At the very least, I suggest locking down your server with a password on all Windows accounts so your employees and hackers have more difficulty messing with your server.

6) Install Anti-virus Software
You absolutely must install anti-virus on every computer that has email or internet access (and keep the software up to date).

7) Configure Anti-Virus Software For Automatic Updates
It's also very important to configure that software to update automatically every day, so you don't forget.

8) Install Anti-Spyware Software
Times have changed and today anti-spyware software has become a requirement for any computer with internet access.

9) Configure Anti-Spyware Software For Automatic Updates
The same thing applies here -- you should configure the software to update automatically so you don't forget.

10) Limit Internet Access
Employees that surf the internet can cause more problems than anything. Anti-virus and anti- spyware software does help but if an employee inadvertently downloads the wrong program or accepts the wrong message, it can bring your system down. You can avoid this by disabling internet browsing on your computers. Or another option is to password protect internet access.

11) Remove Unnecessary Programs
Get rid of all the garbage that you don't need. Your computers should be for business use only. Removing unnecessary programs can speed up your computer and help avoid software conflicts.

12) Implement Policies For Computer Use
I highly recommend that you implement non-negotiable computer use policies for your employees. For example, if they have internet access or rights to install programs, you need to lay down the law. If you don't, one of these days you'll come into the store and find your computer has a few goodies loaded that messes up your system. I would suggest that you enforce - no internet surfing, no instant messaging, do NOT open anything on the computer except necessary business programs like your POS software.

13) Check Power Settings
Sometimes you can avoid little problems by turning off your power save settings. For example, if your computer decides to go into "sleep mode", it can slow down you POS software.

14) Configure Your Printers
You will most likely need to install printer drivers and do some networking to get your printers working properly. I can't explain all the details in this article, but you'll need to get it done.

15) Install Your Retail Software Applications
Every software system works a little different so you should get help from your software provider. Things you'll need to do can include: setting up your server database, installing server software, and installing client software on each workstation.

16) Configure Your POS Software
If you have a POS system you'll need to configure the software to work properly. In addition, at some point you'll need to configure the software for your specific business. For example, you'll need to set sales tax codes, customer types, product categories, defaults, etc, etc.

17) Install a Back Up
You absolutely must install a good back up system that is reliable. If you need help choosing a back up system, I wrote a few articles about the subject a while back:

18) Configure Your Back Up To Run Every Night
In many situations, it's best to configure your back up to run after hours automatically. But you still need to remember to change your back up device (like tapes) every day.

19) Test Your Backup By Restoring Files Once A Month
I can't tell you how many times I've talked with people that have hard drive failure and think they have a good back up to restore. But when they try to restore they find it hasn't been working for months or years. That's why you need to do a "real" test restore once a month to make sure it's working. By the way, you should restore to an alternate file location so you don't mess up your existing software.

20) Schedule Automatic Windows Updates
If your computer has internet access it's a good idea to schedule automatic updates to protect your computer from the latest security holes and threats.

21) If The Database For Your POS Software Requires Maintenance, Schedule Weekly Maintenance
Some software applications allow you to run database maintenance to clean up indexes and fix errors. In fact, most desktop databases include maintenance programs. It's a good idea to schedule this maintenance once a week to avoid potential problems.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive checklist, but simply a list of the key steps that I see commonly overlooked. There are small details that should be considered when configuring a network and computer system. In addition, you will need some level of computer expertise since I have not included instructions on how to do all of this.

So please check your computer system now. If you don't, you might regret it later.

To Your Success,
Bob Twain

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