How we built an inclusive digital voucher system for the Singapore government
On 13 December 2021, the Community Development Council (CDC) launched its first-ever digital CDC voucher scheme worth $130 million. All 1.3 million Singaporean households will be receiving $100 each to spend to support hawkers and heartland merchants.
While CDC had typically used paper vouchers, People’s Association (PA) approached our team Open Government Products (OGP), GovTech, to explore a switch to digital vouchers in February 2020. With this, we set out to understand how we could build a system that heartland merchants and hawkers, and residents (especially the elderly and digitally less savvy) could use confidently and securely.
The Problem with Paper
As we went to hawker centres to conduct user research and talk to merchants and residents, we found that paper vouchers entailed a lot of work for everyone:
- Residents needed to come down to community centres (CC’s) to collect their vouchers. With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, this was not ideal for seniors and the vulnerable who wanted to minimise contact.
2. Hawkers waited for weeks or months before they got reimbursed. They still needed to collect, count and sometimes go down to the CC to hand over the vouchers to government staff.
3. Staff had to go from shop to shop to collect the vouchers, count them, tally each shops’ earnings and type in their paper records.
After studying more than 10 other Government voucher campaigns, we realised that these problems were not unique to CDC’s paper vouchers. So, in February 2020, we developed a general tool that would allow any Government agency to start a digital voucher campaign and digitise, distribute and track the redemption of vouchers.
RedeemSG (Beta version) was quickly used for government schemes such as NDP Tickets 2020 and NEA/PUB Climate Change Household Package. We then built upon this Beta version to extend the solution to cater to a wider range of user needs given the CDC Vouchers Tranche 3 was a nation-wide scheme.
Key design goals to achieve inclusivity
We defined a few key goals for the next, more inclusive version of the RedeemSG system.
Firstly, RedeemSG should vastly reduce manual work for residents, merchants and staff. Residents should be able to claim vouchers without having to go to the CC. Merchants should be paid within a day, not weeks. Staff should no longer need to walk around to collect them.
Secondly, both the digitally savvy and less digitally savvy (e.g. no Singpass or phone) should be able to easily use their vouchers.
Thirdly, for merchants, RedeemSG should be so easy to use that it would motivate them to switch from paper to digital. This is because through user research, we found that many heartland merchants were so busy that they would resist the switch to digital if it meant a lot more work for them.
Prototyping options for an inclusive voucher system
Next, we carried out various trials, exploring different options for how residents should redeem their vouchers, and how merchants should accept the vouchers. Some of the key options included the following:
Option 1: Merchant Scanning Resident’s Paper Vouchers
Residents presented a paper voucher with a QR printed on it, and merchants scanned the vouchers.
Pros: As residents and merchants were used to paper vouchers, this solution had the lowest switching cost.
Cons: However, with this solution, residents still had to travel to collect paper vouchers, which was undesirable for those who would prefer to claim vouchers online.
Another problem was that paper vouchers cannot update to show whether a voucher has been redeemed or not. As merchants were occupied with handling food, they would typically collect the vouchers first and scan them when they were free. Merchants could have collected and scanned an already redeemed voucher, causing them to suffer a loss.
Option 2: Residents’ E-Wallet V1 (Scanning Merchants’ QR Code)
Residents scanned the merchant’s QR code, similar to the way residents pay using mobile wallets like Paylah, GrabPay and PayAnyone.
To test this, we provided each merchant with a QR code, much like the SGQR codes that can be seen on shop fronts. Residents would use an “e-wallet” web app that would allow them to scan the merchants’ QR and select the amount they wanted to spend.
Pros: Adopting the e-wallet approach would have mimicked the user flow of most e-payment methods today like GrabPay and Paylah, making it more intuitive for users to redeem using their mobile phones.
Cons: When residents used a web app to scan the merchant’s QR code, the browser on a good proportion of android phones did not have permission to access the camera. Residents did not know how to resolve this technical issue for themselves.
Since web apps could not access the camera reliably, we would need to build a mobile app to enable the resident to scan the merchant’s QR. However, it would be time-consuming for all residents to download a mobile app just for voucher redemption.
Digitally less savvy residents would also have been excluded if they did not know how to download a Mobile App or did not have Singpass to login to access their e-wallet. During user trials, we also found that less digitally savvy residents were not used to selecting the specific dollar amount and that this was error prone.
Option 3: Resident’s E-Wallet V2 (Keying in Merchant Shop Code)
Residents keyed in the merchant’s shop code on a web app and selected the amount to use.
We came up with this alternative to work around the problem that the e-wallet option posed, which required residents to download a mobile app in order to use their vouchers.
Pros: No login or app download required for the redemption of vouchers.
Cons: Residents seemed to be confused as the merchant’s shop code looked like a bank pin.
This option also faces the same problem as Option 2 in which less digitally savvy residents would also be excluded if they had no phone. If paper vouchers were provided to cater to those without phones, merchants would have needed to handle 2 different workflows — checking residents e-wallet and collecting paper vouchers — which would be too much of a hassle.
Final option: Resident Presenting Voucher QR Code for the Merchant to Scan
Digital voucher link shown on a phone sent to residents via SMS/ paper voucher were presented as QR codes to the merchants for scanning and redemption.
After testing this out with merchants and residents, it became clear to us that this was the most feasible flow to implement to be inclusive, as there would be a single workflow whereby merchants can scan vouchers, and residents can present vouchers, regardless of whether vouchers are digital or paper.
Fine tuning specific parts of the residents’ / merchants’ experience
Even with the redemption flow selected, the solution was far from complete. We next needed to improve specific parts of the residents’ and merchants’ experience.
For example, given households may not spend the full $100 in CDC vouchers at one go at one heartland shop, we had to work out how residents should select and use specific denominations.
We had earlier validated through the user trials for the 2nd option (e-wallet) that having residents key in the exact amount they want to spend was not intuitive and error-prone, particularly for the less digitally savvy.
So, we provided vouchers with fixed denominations to residents, where they could swipe through individual voucher QR codes for merchants to scan. However, many residents did not find toggling between denominations through swiping intuitive. Merchants also found scanning vouchers one-by-one time consuming.
The team noticed that residents did not find swiping left and right intuitive as the arrows were too silent, and most of them did not know how to find the “remaining vouchers”.
With this, we improved the voucher view to allow the resident to select multiple vouchers at once and present just 1 QR code for the merchant to scan.
After running 8 user trials with up to ~260 merchants and more than 7,000 diverse residents, we finally arrived at the current RedeemSG solution used for $130 Million in CDC digital vouchers.
To ensure RedeemSG caters to a broad base, we worked alongside residents across age groups, language preferences and levels of digital savviness. We also spoke to diverse merchants across the hawkers, provision shop sellers, wet market sellers, and chain stores. We also had to brief the CDCs, merchant associations, Digital Ambassadors, CC staff, and Grassroot Advisors to seek their views and buy in for the product.
Residents can claim and spend their vouchers in just a few steps — see below.
Merchants can use the RedeemSG Merchant app to scan the QR to accept vouchers. The voucher will update in real time with the redemption status. Merchants can then see a tally of the vouchers they scanned and payouts, and get paid within a day.
Within ~4 hours of launch, we saw about 200,000 residents claiming the vouchers, which was testament to how easy it is to claim the vouchers.
Today, we have almost 10,000 merchants who have been onboarded in a few months despite the switch to digital, as they welcome the convenience e-vouchers would bring.
To achieve this, we really needed to ensure RedeemSG provides a seamless experience for a broad base of users. We worked alongside residents across age groups, language preferences and levels of digital savviness. We also spoke to diverse merchants across the hawkers, provision shop sellers, wet market sellers, and chain stores. We also had to share about the tech solution with merchants associations, digital ambassadors, ground staff and grassroots advisors to seek their views and buy in for the product.
Like our other products, RedeemSG shows how, with a citizen-centric approach and a willingness to try and fail fast, we can build more inclusive digital products for all Singaporeans.
Credits to the Current RedeemSG team:
- Talitha Chin — Senior Product Manager
- Charmaine Lee — Product Manager
- Carina Lim — Product Designer
- Pallani Kumaran — Lead Software Engineer
- Kaiwen Huang — Senior Software Engineer
- Kevan Tan — Software Engineer
- Jason Chong — Software Engineer
- Sheikh Salim — Software Engineer
- Reshma Nair — Product Operations Specialist
- Ang Yi Xin — Senior Product Designer (special thank you for coming up with many of the flows and options we tested)
- Jackson Yap — Product Operations Specialist
- Brian Teh — Software Developer
Others who helped along the way:
- Pearly Ong — Senior Product Designer
- Khaleedah Sairi — Product Designer
- Natalie Tan — Product Designer
- Lim Li — Software Engineer Intern
- Ahmed Bahajjaj — Software Engineer Intern
- Yang Yelun — Software Engineer Intern
- Er Jia Chin — Software Engineer intern