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by Chris Hartigan
While colleges and universities are not ecommerce businesses they still do a great deal of ecommerce. From online bill payments for class registration, to payments for fines, infractions and permits, to dining plans and other related student services, to tickets for events and seminars, to online bookstores for merchandize and materials, and of course to online giving for fundraising and advancement activities, colleges and universities are using ecommerce every day to support the multi-faceted business of higher education. And for each of these online transactions there is a commerce platform in place that manages both the “product” and the “sale”, and this myriad of commerce solutions around campus have become, for many institutions, a very complex challenge to support. Multiple vendors with varying terms and conditions create an administrative burden. Multiple contracts with a spectrum of costs create economic disadvantages. Multiple integration points to existing applications and sites creates technological “debt” and potential security issues. And of course multiple different systems themselves creates a patchwork of online experiences that diminishes institutional brand and lowers constituent affinity.
But the good news is that these challenges are addressable and many institutions are looking at their ecommerce ecosystems and seeing an opportunity to implement a single new solution that allows them to take back control of their online commerce landscape. The solution that many are turning to? Drupal Commerce. The reasons why Drupal Commerce makes the most sense for college and universities? Well, there are many...
1) ROI: If return on investment is important to your institution then there is simply no comparison to Drupal Commerce. With other ecommerce platforms there is typically an upfront cost to either license or implement the solution (or both) and there are ongoing percentage-of-transaction costs as well. And for the types of low-margin transactions that colleges and universities are managing online even a small percentage of the transaction fee can be material. Drupal Commerce is open source meaning that it is free and available to anyone. As with any other type of technology solutions the more complex you need it to be the more time and money you can potentially invest in it, but the basic premise of open source holds true for Drupal Commerce and as a result the ROI from using the solution is identifiable and compelling. And that is often the biggest driver of ecommerce solutions in the first place.
2) Adaptability: Due to its open source nature and strong community support Drupal Commerce has been proven effective in a number of different ecommerce situations. Drupal Commerce can be used for relatively simple transactions like online giving where a record is created against an existing contact (or a new contact is created at the time of the gift) and also for more complex transactions like merchandise and materials where inventory management and fulfillment capabilities are required. For “simple” use cases, here’s one simple example of a school using Drupal Commerce to power online giving through its alumni site. And for more complex use cases a great use case that we often point people to is that of Timex, who uses Drupal Commerce throughout their site to drive all online commerce experiences (does your institution have a use case more complex than this?). Due to the diverse nature of online commerce around campus, schools need a single solution that can handle a myriad of different use cases and scenarios. Drupal Commerce can handle them all and thus eliminates the need to plug in individual ecommerce solutions around the institution thereby reducing overall complexity and increasing effectiveness.
3) Unification of Content and Commerce (i.e. Brand Control): This is probably the biggest reason why leading consumer brands like Timex and others have decided to utilize Drupal Commerce to drive their online commerce initiatives. By having a platform that allows you to integrate content and commerce at the same time you can more effectively control the user experience and better manage how your consumers are interacting with your brand. Without this integration the online content experience (“learn, engage”) is bifurcated from the commerce experience (“transact”) and that schism leads to a watered down online experience. Colleges and universities are brands, and in cases where the brand is a part of why your constituents are doing business with you online – such as online giving, buying merchandise or purchasing a ticket to an event – integrating the brand and the content experience into the commerce experience is a best practice that drives greater engagement and, ultimately, more transactions.
4) Leverage Drupal: The fact that Drupal Commerce is fully integrated with your existing Drupal environment goes without saying, but the key point that a lot of our higher education customers focus on is that because it is Drupal they already have a lot of the infrastructure, resources and skills to manage and support it themselves. No need to learn a new technology, no need to learn new integrating protocols, no need to build a new stack… no need slow down at all. Simply take your existing Drupal knowledge and environment and extend it out to support your ecommerce needs around campus.
5) Compliance: Drupal Commerce works like any other commerce platform in that it integrates with any third-party gateway (Touchnet, Authorize.net, Cashnet, Moneris, Verisign, PayPal, Scholarchip, etc,) to effect the credit card transaction and thus allows you to successfully maintain PCI compliance. Additionally, with all the work that the Drupal community does to support the highest accessibility and security protocols there is comfort that the platform you are using to manage your commerce initiatives will be one that will advance your security and accessibility efforts at the same time.
If your school is interested in learning more about how Drupal Commerce can be used to reduce your overall ecommerce complexity and retain more value from the online transactions that you support, you can always contact us to learn more. Or if your school is currently using Drupal Commerce we’d love to hear from you as well. We’re always looking for great examples of Drupal in action to share with rest of the higher education community.