Experience-led ecommerce: Content & commerce with Drupal
This is the first of a two-part series (UPDATE: part two here) discussing a couple of different platforms we at Acro Commerce endorse for our clients. First up, I'll talk about Drupal, a popular open-source content management system, and how its excellent content capabilities can be extended using an ecommerce component of your choice. For companies that require experience-led commerce architecture solutions, Drupal as an integration-friendly content engine is an ideal open source choice.
A quick introduction
People who follow our blog will already know about open source technology and Drupal because we talked about them a lot. Here's a quick introduction for those of you who don't know.
Wikipedia sums up open source software well.
Open-source software is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration.
Open-source software development can bring in diverse perspectives beyond those of a single company. A 2008 report by the Standish Group stated that adoption of open-source software models have resulted in savings of about $60 billion (£48 billion) per year for consumers.
While that describes open source software as a whole, there are many advantages of open source specifically for content creation and ecommerce. No licensing fees bring the total cost of ownership down; businesses are entirely in control of their data and can create integrations with virtually any other system. If you like, you can read more about the advantages of open source for ecommerce via this article.
Drupal is a leading open source content management system that is highly customizable and ideal for creating rich content experiences. In a CMS world dominated by WordPress, Drupal is often overlooked because of its complexity and somewhat steep learning curve. Don't let that stop you from considering it, however, as this complexity is actually one of Drupal's greatest strengths, and the learning curve is continuously improving through admin-focused UX initiatives.
The platform can literally be made to do anything, and it shines when very specialized or unique functionality is required. It has a rich ecosystem of extensions and is very developer-friendly, boasting a massive development community ensuring that businesses using Drupal always have support.
On top of this, Drupal has various strategic initiatives that will keep it modern and relevant now and into the future. One of the initiatives is for the platform to be fully API-first, meaning that a primary focus of Drupal is to be integration-friendly. Developers can integrate Drupal with any other software that has an API available.
Drupal for experience-led commerce
Drupal is suited for any of the three main architectures (discover your ideal architecture here), but experience-led commerce is where it's most capable. Experience-led is for businesses that keep the customer experience top of mind. These businesses want more than to sell products; they also want to tell their story and foster a community around their brand and customers. They want their customer experiences to be personalized and content-rich. These experiences set them apart from their competitors, and they want the freedom to innovate in whatever way is best for their business.
More often than not, SaaS ecommerce platforms alone just don't cut it here. This is simply because they're built for ecommerce, not as an engine for other content. Although there are a lot of benefits to SaaS for ecommerce, businesses using SaaS must conform to the limitations set by the platform and its extensions. Rich content is just not typically possible. Sure, a company may be able to maintain a blog through their SaaS ecommerce platform, but that's about it.
Drupal, on the other hand, is a content engine first. It was built for content, whatever that content may be. If you can dream it, Drupal can do it. On top of this, Drupal, being integration-friendly through its API-first initiative, allows businesses the freedom to integrate any compatible SaaS or open source ecommerce platform. At this point, a complete content & commerce solution has been created and the only limitation is your imagination and available resources to implement it. Implementation can be done in-house with an internal IT team or outsourced to one of the many service providers within the Drupal marketplace, Acro Commerce being one of them.
Let's look at three widely different examples of Drupal-based experience-led commerce.
TELUS Mobility is one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies. Imagine the missed opportunities when a customer's online billing isn't connected to your latest promotions and customer service can't quickly or easily get this information in front of them. This was a problem that they faced and business restrictions, one being that they need to own all of their code and data, required that they look outside of the SaaS marketplace for a solution. Drupal, combined with a Drupal-native Drupal Commerce extension, was the solution that they needed. The open source code base of both Drupal and the Commerce extension meant that TELUS Mobility had the control and ownership that it needed. The result was huge; many important customers and customer service UX improvements were made, which enabled TELUS Mobility to outperform their competitors.
Bug Out Bag Builder
Bug Out Bag Builder (BOBB) is a content-rich resource centred around preparedness. They generate a lot of different types of content and need a way to do it that is easy and reusable. They also had a unique commerce element that needed to tie in seamlessly. Here's how we did it.
First is the content aspect. BOBB is full of content! They maintain an active blog, continuously write lengthy product reviews and provide their readers with various guides and tutorials. They're a one-stop-shop for anything preparedness and have a ton of information to share. As you can see, a simple blog wouldn't be sufficient enough for this business. They needed a way to create various types of content that could be shared and reused in multiple places. The Drupal CMS was quickly able to accommodate. The content has a specific home within the site, but each article is categorized and searchable. Content can be featured on the homepage with the click of a button. Various blocks throughout the site show visitors the most recent content. Reviews can be attached to products within their online custom bug-out bag builder application (more on this below). All of this is great, but what makes Drupal a fantastic content engine is that if BOBB ever needs to use this content in another way, all of the saved data can be reused and repurposed without needing to recreate the content. Just a little configuration and theming work would need to be done.
The second is the commerce aspect. BOBB is not a standard ecommerce store. At their core, they're actually an Amazon Associate. They've developed trust with their readers by providing fair and honest reviews of preparedness products listed on the Amazon marketplace. If a reader then goes and buys the product, BOBB gets a cut since they helped make the sale.
That's all pretty normal, but what makes BOBB unique is that they also have a web-based Custom Bag Builder application. This tool has several pre-built "BOBB recommended" bag configurations for specific situations. Customers can select these bags (or start from scratch), view/add/remove any products, and finally complete the purchase. Since BOBB doesn't need the full capabilities of ecommerce, it didn't make sense for them to be paying monthly licensing fees. Drupal Commerce was selected for this purpose. It's used as a catalogue to hold the product information and create a cart. Then, an integration between Drupal Commerce and Amazon transfers the cart information to Amazon, where the customer ultimately goes through checkout. Amazon then handles all of the fulfillment, and BOBB gets the commission.
BikeHike Adventures was founded as a way of bringing like-minded adventurers together through the unique style of world travel that they promote – activity, culture and experience. They provide curated travel packages that customers enquire about through the BikeHike Adventure website. Travel is all about experience and they needed to share this experience through their website. They also needed more than just a standard article page to do it since there is a ton of information to share about each package. Furthermore, they wanted to give customers a way to reserve a trip for pre-selected dates or through a custom trip planner. Again, Drupal was a perfect fit.
When you visit the site, you're immediately thrown into the world of active travel through a rich video banner followed by a series of travel packages, a travel blog and more. There is a lot of exciting locations and vibrant imagery throughout.
Clicking into a package, you're again hit with spectacular photography and all of the information you would need to make a decision. You can read about the trip, view the itinerary and locations marked on a map, learn about what's included and where you'll be staying, read interesting and useful facts about the country and location, see a breakdown of day-to-day activities, read previous traveller review, and more. When a customer is ready to book, they can submit an enquiry which is then handed off to the BikeHike Adventures travel agents.
A commerce component isn't actually being used in this site, but it's just a great example of content and customer experience that is used to facilitate a booking with a travel agent. If BikeHike Adventures wanted to in the future, they are free to integrate the booking and payment platforms of their choice to automate some, if not all, of that aspect of this process. By utilizing the open source Drupal CMS this is an option that they can exercise at any point in time.
Who is Drupal best suited for?
Drupal could be used for any business, but it's typically best suited for ecommerce businesses:
- Who want to differentiate their brand through personalized shopping experiences
- Who want to showcase products outside of a standard product page
- Who wants the power to develop a content-rich experience AND have an industry-standard checkout process
- Who want to sell across multiple channels and third-party marketplaces
- Who need to develop and execute cohesive and synchronized marketing campaigns across multiple channels
- Who want the freedom to integrate and connect their CMS and commerce platform with other components within their overall architecture
- Who want to limit platform fees and instead invest in their own commerce infrastructure
In closing, there's a reason why the ecommerce market is open to open source more than ever. Businesses are increasingly seeing that open source provides a quality foundation for which to build and integrate the solutions they need for today's new-age ecommerce. Customer experience is now seen as a competitive advantage and there are a handful of options that can provide this experience, Drupal being one of them. If you're looking for experience-led ecommerce solutions, consider Drupal. It might just be what you need.
UPDATE: Read part 2 of this series - BigCommerce & Drupal for Growing Ecommerce Businesses
If you liked this article, check out these related resources.
- Tool: Discover Your Ideal Architecture
- Webinar: Understanding digital commerce architecture for successful scalability
- Webinar: How to plan for an open source commerce architecture
- Article: Advantages of open source commerce
- Article: Commerce architecture for scalability vs. growth
- Article: Choosing between Saas or open source platforms for a growing business<