NYC STREET VENDORS
Service Design, Case Study
Advised by Marshall Sitten of Citi Community Development, our Service Design team at SVA focused on a food produce vendor named Palash located on the corner of 22nd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. We spoke to the vendor and gained a strong understanding of his most outstanding challenges. After interviews with street vendors throughout New York, we designed and tested prototypes that improved price tag signages and informed customers about the health-inspected food quality. Our designs were successful and continue to be used.
NY produce street vendors do not display price tag signage clearly on their stands, the items aren't presented in a way that reflect an attractive farmer's market vibe, and customers aren't aware that the fruits and vegetables are health inspected by law.
Furthermore, vendors are fined heavily because there's often a language barrier and they're not informed about the business regulations. These issues drive revenue down and damage customer perceptions, too.
Our extensive research helped us understand that customer perceptions significantly impact the business growth of NY Produce Street Vendors.
We designed a distributable vendor's toolkit with information about business regulations, price tag prototypes in the field. This toolkit informed customers that all items have been health inspected. We also reconfigured the food display to reflect a more attractive farmer's market vibe.
User Interviews; User Testing; User Research; Persona & Scenario Modeling; Brand Development; Prototype;
Experience Design; Service Design; Concept Design; Interaction Design; UX Strategy
Xiaoxi Yuan, Angie Ngoc Tran & Yumeng Ji
Visual Designer & Design Researcher
We spoke to 7 produce street vendors in Manhattan.
Over the course of our research, we continually consulted a book recommended by our professor called "Service Design: From Insight to Implementation." Written by Andy Polaine, Ben Reason & Lavrans Løvlier, this book gives readers a comprehensive toolkit to designing effective, thoughtful and empathetic services.
In synthesizing our research, we mapped out a street vendor's blueprint. We analyzed every touchpoint along their journey, which included all points of visible interaction, internal interaction, and government interaction.
After solidifying our blueprint, we identified the main paint points which are highlighted below in orange.
After our interviews with street vendors and customers, we organized the key findings and problems of the service into the following categories: Language Barriers, Tools & Equipment, Cultural Background, Monopoly of Resources, Location Strategies, Climate Conditions, Signage & Pricing, and Finances.
Language Barriers: Most vendors are immigrants. English is therefore not their native tongue. Language barriers lead to a plethora of misunderstandings and miscommunications during the training and license retrieval process, and furthermore with customers in a variety to day to day interactions. Vendors are consequently very vulnerable as foreigners and as small business owners. Inspectors see the stand industry as a source of city income, which is why vendors are fined excessively. Vendors do not understand the strict requirements and health codes due to language limitations. Small food vendors are seen as an easy target for constant exploitation.
Tools & Equipment: Vendors feel very dependent upon their tools and equipment, where all of the mechanics, working functionalities, and operations are vital to the business's success.
Cultural Background: Most vendors chose this business to be their own boss. Although one challenge among many is that their hours of operations are very extensive in order to support their families.
Monopoly of Resources: All items for sale come from the same source: The Bronx Terminal Market. In fact, all of the major supermarkets i.e. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Fairway get their items from this same source. The prices for items fluctuate without warning from the market, thus it's a monopoly.
Location Strategies: Many of the locations for the stands are very strategic. They are located by highly trafficked areas, in proximity to touristic attractions, and areas that are known as defining neighborhood relationships and loyalty.
Climate Conditions: Winter is a huge detriment to sales, activity, and consistency. Vendors suffer physically in harsh weather conditions. They also do not have a supplemented income in winter, and struggle to find sufficient alternatives. The fruit freezes and customers are simply too cold outside to stop to shop on the street.
Signage & Pricing: Customers are drawn to clear signage and pricing. This needs to be displayed clearly in order to catch the attention of customers as they pass by the stand, quickly down the street. Each item needs to be explicitly labeled.
Finances: Vendors are frequently charged with heavy fines, which take away a huge sum of their revenue. There is also constant rising cost in items sold at the Bronx Terminal Market. However, they do sell a lot of items from the stand per day.
Service Pain Points
The main service pain points are climate conditions, following health codes and regulations, and the overall presentation of the stand. We redesigned the service to implement solutions to these pain points. Solutions included: constructing a green house, identifying seasonal inventory, and storing products in the truck during the winter; creating clear informative signage to eliminate misunderstandings about the health codes and regulations; and designing clear labels, an organic-themed presentation that resembles a farmers market feel, cleaning the overall look of the stand, and putting the stand's main items in demand to the front display.
Probability vs. Damage
The following diagram shows the probability versus the damage of risk as we crafted our prototypes. The points circled in red represented our decided focus.
We observed that the revenue acquired by vendors goes down as a result of an unclear perception of value from the customers, as well as interrupted sales flow.
The revenue that vendors enjoy is derived from the salient attributes of the produce. These salient attributes are that the produce is convenient, cheap, quick, and sold via the exchange of personal relationships. The frequent fines however drive their profit down. We wanted to design a solution to stop the unfortunate occurrence of unclear perception of value, interrupted sales flow, and fines.
Our design targeted these problems. We crafted three design goals in response to these problems. We also sought to increase customer WTP, improve sales logistics, and cooperate with city regulations.
We rethought the construction of price tag signages to include plastic clips. These would ensure flexibility of product placement, as well as clarity for customers. We redesigned them to feature waterproof and durable plastic lamination, as well as strategic measurements for them to be always visible to customers.
Prototypes & Usability Testing
We tested our prototypes by displaying the new price tag and health inspection signages on the NY produce street stands. After interviewing vendors and customers further, we were able to imagine how all items included in our "Vendor's Toolkit" could be seamlessly integrated in the field.
Price Tag Signage
We took inspiration from visiting farmer's markets and Whole Foods in redesigning the price tag signages for vendors. From our research, it became clear that large imagery, bold price labeling, and straightforward layouts entice customers the most to buy products.
We designed a "Vendor's Toolkit" which can be easily distributed at the Bronx Terminal Market, where all vendors get their produce. The toolkit would include a multilingual pamphlet detailing basic regulations and fines. Also enclosed would be stickers that clearly illustrate the fines, as well as reminder tape for the exact measurements in setting up their stand, and rulers. The goal was to educate vendors about about potential risks, regulations, and ultimately, to empower them to stand their ground as they communicate with inspectors and police officers.
For the signage and toolkit, we would deliver these materials to the Bronx Terminal Market, which is the supply channel for all vendors. For the price tags, we would publish these on the internet and include resources for the materials, so that vendors throughout the city can make them on their own. The goal of the signage was to inform customers about the health inspections. We wanted to raise awareness about the produce freshness. The price tags were redesigned to improve logistics and simplify the work for all vendors. The vendor’s toolkit was lastly redesigned to educate them about the potential risks, regulations, and ultimately, to empower them to stand their ground as they communicate with inspectors and police officers.
We believe that we have made substantial improvements to this service. There was a prevalent concern among customers as to the quality of products for sale, and this needed to be alleviated by displaying an organic sign very prominently on the grocery stand in multiple places. Customers also needed to be clear that the storage condition of the food is very stable and in an air conditioned environment. We wanted to design the service in a way that features a fresh and organic theme.
We see this service design project as more than just the improvement of a grocery stand. We were inspired to empower small businesses. We also wanted to give vendors the tools, solutions, and competitive edge to innovate in their market space and to thrive. We hope for our design can be applicable at other grocery stands and street-side food vendors throughout New York City.
First of all, we are refining our design in response to various feedback.
Also, one surprising finding was the existence of LinkNYC, which is a first-of-its-kind communication network that brings the fastest free public Wi-Fi to millions of New Yorkers and visitors. As an international infrastructure project, LinkNYC can enable the use of credit cards in purchasing produce from the street vendors. According to time.com, “over half of American citizens never carry cash, instead of relying solely on credit and debit cards to pay their daily expenses.” We believe that as customers are given a way to use credit cards and as vendors follow the regulations that help them avoid financially damaging fines, the street vendors will experience an increase in profit and revenue. The profit for vendors will increase as we raise customer awareness about health regulations, improve sales logistics, implement reminders about the regulations, and integrate ways to use WIFI from LinkNYC.
As fellow New Yorkers, we perpetually questioned how we can help as a city. The City Council intends to consider legislation that would gradually double the number of food vendor permits issued over the course of seven years, making it possible for 600 more street vendors to begin legally selling food each year. Preference would be given to vendors on the city’s waiting lists for permits. Approximately 2,500 people are currently on the list for full-time permits. Thirty-five permits would be set aside for veterans and disabled people. A new dedicated vendor law enforcement unit would be created to unburden local officers from ensuring that vendor rules are followed. The bills would also refine certain outdated rules and restrictions applied to food vendors. Lowering fines will increase revenue for the city. This will also improve the chances for vendors to grow their businesses. Simplifying the permitting process for vendors would reduce their wait time in the lottery. Into the future, we will strive to create relevant policies specific to produce carts.
Basinski, the Director of the Street Vendor Project, states “A city that has the money and has the resources to do it should be doing it.”