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New Dorm Supply Delivery Service Aims to Compete with HSA

ShopCrimson, a student-run business that delivers dorm room supplies, aims to give the University's dominant student corporation some competition this year.

Launched by a group of sophomores this summer, the start-up sells packages of bottled water, paper towels, tissues, and pre-packaged ramen noodles, among other merchandise. Ming Ying ’20, a founder of ShopCrimson, said he came up with the idea for the business with his freshman-year roommate in April.

“We felt like the delivery options available to Harvard students right now were incredibly expensive and limited,” Ying said. “We sell it to you for literally the same price that you would be buying it from a store like CVS. The benefit, obviously, is that it is delivered to your doorstep.”

Matthew “Teddy” T. Brokaw ’18 said he recently bought a pack of 40 water bottles from ShopCrimson. He’d previously used Harvard Student Agencies, a student-run corporation that maintains a close relationship with the University, to purchase his water.

HSA Office
Harvard Student Agencies is located at 67 Mount Auburn Street.
A 501c(3) nonprofit, HSA employs hundreds of Harvard students and earns millions in revenue from its 14 agencies.

Brokaw said he prefers the start-up ShopCrimson to its competitor.

“I hate HSA,” he said. “It’s a low-quality service at a very high price and I would be willing to buy from virtually any other company on Earth if I had an alternative to HSA, and now finally there is an alternative to HSA.”

In an emailed statement, Angelina R. Massa ’18, president of Harvard Student Agencies, said that the campus delivery service is aware of ShopCrimson, but does not know many details about the business.

“Water and other deliveries are logistically complicated businesses,” Massa said in an emailed response to Brokaw’s and Ying’s statements. “We continually strive to provide quality products and first-rate services to all of our customers.”

While ShopCrimson is moving forward with its orders and current business plan, it could face regulatory hurdles from Harvard administrators.

In April 2013, the College’s Office of Student Life told the operators of student-run delivery service InstaNomz, that they were in violation of College policy governing business activity on campus. Given the choice between operating as an “outside vendor,” a designation which would have precluded them from delivering straight to students’ doors, and partnering with HSA, InstaNomz folded.

Ying said he is not worried about ShopCrimson suffering a similar fate. He said the business will comply if the College asks them to close or operate as an outside vendor. Administrators from the OSL did not respond to requests for comment.

“We believe there shouldn’t be a monopoly that’s allowed to operate inefficiently and charge students ridiculously high prices to compensate for those inefficiencies,” Ying said. “Obviously, if the administration tells us to do something, there’s really no way to argue.”

—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at katie.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiewang29.

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