Van Schaik E-Commerce Bookstore

Realm partnered with Van Schaik to upgrade their e-commerce website and enhance capability through technology.

Van Schaik E-Commerce Bookstore

The client

The Van Schaik Bookstore, one of our long-standing clients, is one of the oldest bookstores in Southern Africa, with physical locations in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, and Namibia, as well as a library supply service, and a thriving online store.

Van Schaik specialises in the supply of educational materials, such as textbooks, in order to help people achieve their academic aspirations, with the intention of improving the overall standard of living for the greater African community.

The brief

After a usability and sales analysis of the Van Schaik website, issues relating to the design, responsiveness and user experience were identified and needed to be addressed. Furthermore, analytics showed a clear pattern of migration from desktop to mobile browsing among users.

With the problem-areas clearly defined, Van Schaik needed Realm to perform a complete website redesign. The client wanted to utilise their existing layout and page elements, but introduce technological improvements with a new tech stack.

One of the main focuses of the redesign would be to ensure a responsive and adaptive user experience (UX), that would translate into a smooth mobile-friendly site that would allow them to remain competitive in the changing e-commerce landscape. The new site journey would need to be fresh and engaging, while at the same time designed to meet to the unique requirements of school students, parents, and academic professionals.

“This is in keeping with our continuous strides to be ever-relevant in a world of changing student realities, to continue distributing bona fide educational content that is transforming lives for the better and ‘taking you places’.”

Melvin Kaabwe, Digital Executive at Van Schaik Bookstore Group

The solution

Due to the importance of a user-focused UX, we performed an analysis of Van Schaik’s expected customer base. This allowed us to fully understand the user that would engage with the product, and utilise that data as a foundation for the design concept.

In order to address the slow response time of the old site, we built the reskinned website using PHP Version 7.1, which is up to 4 times faster than the old PHP 5.6 on small load requests. We also moved the Van Schaik web servers from Apache to Nginx, which can be up to 2.5 times faster, and resulted in considerable speed improvements in the Read/Write (I/O) sector. Additionally, we stretched our technical capabilities and performed an upgrade from Elasticsearch 1.5 to version 6.4, further improving speed related to data lookup. The mobile-first approach allowed us to utilise modern technologies including HTML5, CSS3, Webpack, Node, and Bootstrap 4. 

Some of the other solutions established were related to the selection of secure payment methods, including for student-specific bursary payments and other non-traditional payment types. We established third-party communication protocols between Van Schaik and their vendors, rewards programs, courier companies and CRM, and created interfaces between the e-commerce website and the in-house developed physical POS technology, ensuring accurate representation of physical stock databases on all systems.

Over and above all of the upgrades, extensive testing was conducted to ensure that none of the existing functionality was lost. The project was managed using the agile methodology, and consistent and comprehensive communication with the client was achieved through Slack and Trello channels.

Van Schaik Solutions image

“Van Schaik is a key player in the South African education space and has always been quick to embrace technology. Realm Digital has been incredibly privileged to have been a part of this journey for over 8 years, and we look forward to seeing the impact the new site has on making learning resources more accessible to the student market.”

– Simon Bestbier, CEO at Realm Digital

The results

The new Van Schaik e-commerce website saw a successful launch, and the redesign has ensured that Van Schaik remains competitive in the mobile-dominant market. According to the client, sales grew between 14% – 18% per annum (excluding disruptions due to COVID-19), solidifying their dominance in the educational market and helping to extend their market share.

The speed and reliability of the new site is much improved, with a hosting uptime of 99% or higher, and the various payment types and third party integrations are functioning optimally. All of these aspects have resulted in less interruptions, complications and frustrations for the client and their customers.

The upgrade seems to have met the needs of their unique customer base. Despite such diverse audiences, from school and college students to academic professionals, Vam Schaik have not received any complaints with regards to the products user experience.

The client is very pleased with the outcomes of this project, and Realm is proud to have provided Van Schaik with a fresh and engaging e-commerce website that meets their needs and helps to transform lives for the better. Realm continues to offer continued support to Van Schaik on a retainer basis.

Van Schaik 4

“Realm provided a fresh and engaging e-commerce site able to cope with the unique quirks of academic bookselling in Africa, including non-traditional payment types, and could fill in the gaps by inventing tools where needed to ensure continuity when support was not available from overseas edtech or publishing partner teams. They are more of a partner than a vendor to Van Schaik.”

– Melvin Kaabwe, Digital Executive at Van Schaik Bookstore Group

Get in touch

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Services Provided

Technologies Used

  • PHP
  • MySql