For three years running, the Store Systems team at Walmart Technology has helped organize the Angel Tree fundraiser, an event that asks volunteers to buy children their dream Christmas gifts. In partnership with organizations like the Salvation Army and Care Tree Community, the fundraiser allows shoppers as well as Walmart associates to help make sure that families less fortunate are able to have an amazing Christmas.

Last year, our division committed to purchasing gifts for 14 children, but this year we wanted to do more and set a target to help a record-breaking 70 children. In years past, maintaining a list of the Christmas “Angels” and their gifts had proven to be a daunting task; each child has a unique wish list and profile with their favorite colors, toys, clothing sizes and more. We assigned each child to a different team and manually tracked the gifts. To help 70 children, we needed to open up the fundraiser to the entire division, which in turn necessitated a way to track who had volunteered for each gift. It became clear that we needed to build a gift tracking system, and so, the Angel Tree Kiosk was born.

Our team, which we called the “Diva Devs,” included front-end developer Jordan Perry, user experience designer Precious Baugh, and front-end/back-end developer Danika Goecke. Together, we created a mobile kiosk experience that allows associates to check in and check out items.

To meet the technical demands of the application, we had to learn several new skills under a tight deadline. For instance, front end-developers had to learn the back end of the tech stack. We had experience in mobile user interface development but had minimal experience developing back-end services following the Service Oriented Architecture. The services were written in Node.js, and the user interface was in Angular.js. The similarities between Node and Angular made for rapid development as we learned Node.js, Hapi.js and Cassandra CQL. We also used OneOps, an open source DevOps platform for cloud and application lifecycle management (developed by @WalmartLabs), to host the services, the database, and the dashboard. 

Our first goal was to retrieve the list of Christmas Angels. Writing a feature like this was new for us, but once we were successful, we could quickly develop the full application following Agile development methodology. The ability to use open source technologies, such as Hapi.js, Node.js, sass and several others, made for even faster development. Total efforts for the full feature application took the team approximately two weeks spread over the course of a few months. We met for hack sessions at each other’s houses and stayed late nights in the office with the larger goal in mind: developing the best possible experience to gain excitement from other associates while supporting the children of Northwest Arkansas.

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Our team separated each child’s wish list into individual items that we paired with a barcode and hung on the Christmas trees in place of traditional ornaments. As associates approached the tree, a nearby kiosk greeted them with fun holiday music, a vibrant Christmas-themed color palette and festive fonts. The loading screen even has animated presents that bounce cheerfully across the screen, which we created using graphic design tools. Our committee also partnered with a local supplier to have the kiosk stands donated for the event.

The solution records the user IDs of participating associates to provide our team an easy way of tracking gift status. We paired the kiosk with an administrative dashboard that allows users to see an overview of each Angel’s status and a breakdown of each item status to track associate engagement. Associates can choose an item from the tree and use the kiosk to check out gifts. They then receive a follow-up email with unique details about their Angel and next-step instructions.

“We wanted to create an experience that was intuitive, but also really fun to use,” Baugh said.

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The “Diva Devs” and the Angel Tree committee led by programmer analyst Mary Ann Dixon anticipated that associates would enjoy the new way of participating in the fundraiser, but we underestimated just how much enthusiasm the kiosks would drive. On the first day, we placed 72 Angel tags across the Walmart Technology and Sam’s Club Home Office campuses. Within eight hours, all tags had been checked out and associates were requesting more. With the help of the Angel Tree kiosk, more than 1,000 items were purchased between Sam’s Home Office and Walmart Technology — a record-breaking number for the Angel Tree fundraiser. Nearly 200 associates donated gifts and helped ensure that 171 children will wake up to an unforgettable Christmas morning. And next year? We’ve already committed to helping 500 children.

Photo credit: Abinav Munshi, Scrum Master

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