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Do we Shopify?

Research into the potential of creating an online platform for sales of school uniform and materials for parents.

How it all started.

Circumstances: Our Director of Information & Technology (DIT) had been having a  few conversation with other division heads and felt that there was a potential to modernise the purchasing process of school uniforms and school materials to create a better user experience for parents. These conversations were raised up to us partially due to a situation of school uniform collection that occurred in the previous year.

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/police-disperse-crowd-gathered-outside-school-uniform-shop-in-ang-mo-kio

Initial Goal of this project: To create a platform for parents to buy uniform and school materials.

Research Methodology: User Interviews

Instead of jumping straight into creating solutions for the perceived problem, we decided that it would make more sense to research on whether the problem statement held water this was especially important for the team as none of us had any experience in this process.

 

In order to understand the full situation on the ground, our team decided to research on the following groups of people involved in this process: 

  • School Uniform / School Supply Vendors

  • School staff working with School Uniform and School Supply Vendors

  • Parents

  • Private Platform providers

  • Government organisations that run grants to help vendors digitise their business

Through these interviews, our team hope to identify how do each participating party gain value during this process. 

Our Discovery

  • Most vendors already have a running e-platform that is able to take digital transactions. 
    For those w/o an online store, most have a phone/email order option.

  • Vendors also provide a delivery service in order to cut back on collection @ school.

  • Vendors make and pay for the uniform order in advance, all the orders are send out to overseas companies 2-3 years in advance.*

Vendors

Schools

  • Are in partnership with their vendors for 6 - 10 years (can be longer), for each round of contract they do a 2+1 each round. 

  • Some schools don’t allow vendors to use the schools as collection points resulting in parents congregating at the vendors’ store front. 

  • Schools will only let parents know that it is not necessary to get the school uniform by the start of the year if the vendor is unable to meet the demand for many students.

Parents

  • Have a very small window to buy and get the school uniform for their children. (2 weeks) >> especially for parents with children going from P6 > Sec 1

  • Have a perception that everything needs to be done before the start of the year. Hence will do everything in their power to get all the materials their child needs.

Private Sector considerations

A conversation with Shopee gave our team a better understanding that while the infrastructure of an e-commerce system was in place, the platform did not provide full assistance to help non digital vendors take up this space. Vendors who took up a space in the platform would eventually incur a 5% commission and 2% transaction fee.

Public Sector considerations

In another conversation with IMDA, we discovered that they had existing pre-approved e-store solutions providing 80% subsidy of capital cost of store. Each digital store takes around ~3 months to be built.

Reflection on our discovery

In order to address the initial problem that was surfaced to us, there were other ways in which a solution could be concocted without having to create a full digital platform for all vendors. 

While creating a shopping platform for schools sounded sexy, in reality  most vendors had already gone digital due to covid. If we were insistent on creating a common market place for parents to " Shop" for their child's uniforms, vendors would be unable to bulk order and there would be a severe increase in the cost of school uniforms and materials to parents.

We took a look back at the problem we were trying to solve, and realised that essentially the underlying issue in this project was to find a way to ensure that parents do not congregate in schools/ or at the vendor's offices during a time when the country is facing a pandemic.

Proposed solution: Keep it simple, use what we have. 

To move this project further, our team engaged with the Parent's Gateway Application team to find out whether there was a potential for us to implement a scheduling feature for parents to pre-book a collection time in schools. We were also in talks with other related divisions to ensure that all schools inform parents ahead of time that there will be ample time to get the needed materials for their children. 

Below are the screens we proposed to the parent gateway team re-purposing an existing feature in the application for parent-teaching meeting to a scheduling feature for parents to book a collection time for their purchases. 

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