Shopping Local with Vancity

Shopping Local with Vancity

Jennylee Bellatrix

A few months ago, Vancity Credit Union approached us with an idea that they hoped would help them use their Good Money™ program to support a stronger local economy. After talking with them about the potential for this new project, we were excited to work with them—on what was to be a very short schedule—to produce a pilot loyalty program now being tested in the Victoria market, called Localty.

We were given three months to work with the Vancity team and build a mobile website that could do a big list of things:

  • use a smartphone's geolocation to show where local businesses are in relation to the person using the web application;
  • give Vancity client businesses the ability to join the program and be listed in the web app;
  • allow users to browse and search for specific businesses by name or type of business;
  • give the users the ability to show their love for a business as well as let them record a purchase at a business using a custom code; and most importantly
  • award points and unlock badges related to these expressions of support for local businesses—with the intent to reward those who shop locally in their own community and keep them interested in the program.

Three months is not a long time to get those things done. Ideally, we would want to build a phone application for iPhone and Android rather than a mobile site for this kind of project, but with such a short timeline requirement and the stipulation that this was a pilot project and not the final product, we pushed ahead with the build-out of a mobile, responsive website. We were tasked with building the system that would, should the project prove successful, eventually become a much larger program. And build it we did.

We chose to use Symfony—an object oriented php framework. Symfony provides a set of components that perform tasks common to most web applications. This allowed us to focus on building the pieces unique to the Localty system. Symfony is commonly used with Doctrine ORM, essentially an abstraction layer on top of the database (in our case mysql) which allows us to interact with our data in an object oriented manner.

Doctrine provided a way for us to describe our entities (essential nouns: members, businesses etc.) and the relationships between them. Our front end was built using Foundation - a responsive, mobile ready sass framework—and grunt—a frontend taskrunner for compiling sass to css, copying assets and bundling up our javascript files.

These technologies allowed us to work efficiently, focus our attention on building important features, and deliver on time. Vancity is now testing it extensively in the Greater Victoria region, and they’re pretty happy about how things are going. We’re looking forward to seeing how the pilot goes, and building this into a phone app when it proves itself.