Expanding from physical stores to online sales of used items shows great potential for the social enterprise Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus (“Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre"), but the main bottleneck is in inventory: the speed with which employees are able to add items for sale. Together with Haaga Helia students, we explored ways of using technology for increasing Kierrätyskeskus' online inventorying process efficiency.
Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus is a big social enterprise operating in the Helsinki metropolitan area. They resell stuff that people donate, while creating employment and education programs on sustainability.
Kierrätyskeskus plays a key role in circulation of goods in Finland. In year 2017, they have returned into use over 4 milion items: 2,7 milion sold and 1,4 milion given out as free. The estimated quantity of material resources saved: 49,6 million kilos.
Our partner and client for the case was Esko Janatuinen, Online Shop Manager at Kierrätyskeskus. Esko was leading the team running the online shop and was responsible for all the operations and tools supporting the work.
In contrast to Kierrätyskeskus’ physical stores, the online store focuses on selling higher quality items, in small volumes. The reason for both of these is process cost: it just takes too long to add items for sale, which makes selling cheaper items too expensive to consider.
Focusing on higher quality items is not a problem, as cheaper items may be easier to sell in physical stores. But the limitation to volume is: online sales could expand the customer base to people not visiting the physical stores, so the bottleneck in online volume creates a bottleneck to overall sales.
At the start of the project, we looked at the typical inventory process together with Kierrätyskeskus. The average time of adding one item was estimated to about 7 mins, photo taking excluded. We set as project target to get to 30sec / item, including photo taking.
As a secondary goal, we wanted to explore the use of speech and image recognition. It not only looked promising for the context, but it provided an interesting learning opportunity – both for the student group and for Futurice.
It was essential to understand the exact process and context that Kierrätyskeskus employees were working with, so that's where we started. Both Futurice mentors and Haaga Helia students got generously detailed walkthroughs of the inventory process.
We continued with ideation, via a "bodystorming" exercise. Mixed teams re-thought the inventorying process, using props and storytelling to communicate the context and to imagine tools we might create to help speed up the process. Then the concepts were tested and evaluated by Kierrätyskeskus' product owner Esko.
A product vision was created, "user stories" prioritised and a typical Scrum software development process started.
On a parallel track, the student team had also been busy getting intro-ed to technologies and tools they were going to use in the project: React, Redux, software development best practices, AI basics. When sprint 1 started, the team was ready to go.
We ran 4 sprints, each 3 weeks-long. At the end, we had a working demo, showing what Kierrätyskeskus’ new inventory process could look like.
The prototype proved that photo taking and weighing can both be integral parts of the add-new-item flow, thus streamlining it. This could mean major time savings for the Kierrätyskeskus web store team if the solution were integrated to their inventory tool. More time savings would still be possible, but we didn’t have enough time to explore them all.
In addition, we found that the time of adding books could be brought down to 30-60 seconds, by plugging in a barcode scanner and connecting to an existing open database of Finnish books. We created a standalone solution for this, that Kierrätyskeskus can take into use immediately, by using copy-paste instead of web inventory integration.
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