Getting Started: Drupal E-Commerce

Getting Started: Drupal E-Commerce

Reasons for implementing a Drupal e-commerce solution will vary across the board. The bottom line is that the CMS can seamlessly meet any desire. As every business has different e-commerce requirements, creating the ideal Drupal E-Commerce environment requires thoughtful consideration. The process involves choosing the right set of modules, customizing themes and ensuring proper checkout and payment processor integration.

Selecting the Appropriate E-Commerce Module

Consistent with the wealth of modules available for the open-source platform, Drupal e-commerce tools are no exception. Here are the best and most widely utilized ones:

Commerce - Drupal Commerce touts a steep learning curve, with features like the entity API. This module takes advantage of many core features of Drupal 7 such as field and entities, along with functionalities like views and rules. One caveat is the difficulty in configuring this module to exact specifications. In fact, new users may be surprised to find that Commerce doesn't include a shipping module in core and in fact requires additional modules to achieve certain use cases. Nevertheless, with a strong foundation, this module represents a high level of sophistication for many advanced teams. If you are lacking the appropriate level of expertise and knowledge, an adept web developer might need to be worked into the budget.

Ubercart - Drupal e-commerce users attest to Ubercart having a more user-friendly, "store-like" system that is both well-written and extensible. The solution is particularly ideal for anyone looking to build communities around their products. Ubercart lives by its name in accommodating virtually any buying and selling need out-of-the-box; meaning full integration with a company or community website. With Ubercart, users will never have to change the source code to add new features, which brings us to our next topic of discussion.

No Hacking

It is highly frowned upon to make changes to these modules in the customization of your e-commerce system. No matter how tempting, due to business needs or otherwise, hacking causes a proprietary content-management-system to be created. Keeping your website open-source preserves the integrity of your website to fresh, new releases. These releases often include critical fixes to security vulnerabilities. By hacking external modules, these security fixes no longer become available.

Distributions

Savvy business owners and organizations implement distributions to get the most from Drupal with the least input. Distributions provide out-of-the-box enhanced drupal installations with specific features and functionality geared towards target audiences. From churches to restaurants to government websites and academic institutions, distributions bypass the hassle of starting completely from scratch. Drupal currently has a total of 332 completed distributions projects and counting, with nearly as many in the sandbox phase.

The best distributions offered are sustainable and intuitive. Searches on distributions may be filtered by compatibility, popularity, keyword, and more (under the Download & Extend tab). Drupal.org offers a comprehensive guide on locating, evaluating and installing these projects. Ensuring installed distributions are well-maintained and updated is key, especially for users who lack the expertise to update a custom website.

Provide Rating Systems & Reviews

Opening things up for customer engagement by enabling product reviews and ratings is especially helpful for marketing campaigns. By turning on Drupal core's comment system, visitors will be able to make comments on product pages. As a result, shoppers are empowered in their quest for an educated purchase. For ratings (on a one-to-five scale), theFivestar module or the Star Rating module will create a holistic online storefront; which influences buyer confidence while simultaneously building trust in your company.

Secure Checkout & Login Pages

For e-commerce, ensuring secure checkout and login is an absolute imperative. The Secure Pages module is recommended for this need. With a web server having SSL enabled and Drupal installation configured to support SSL access, you will be able to redirect required pages to a secure version of checkout pages (https).

Checkout Page Appearance

Once customers make it to your checkout form, this page should be clean and free of distractions or “noise”. Completing a sale of any kind should only involve focus on the exchange of money. Drupal core's block system allows the hiding of blocks and widgets. Utilizing the same URL pattern matching system in the Secure Pages module allows customers to hone in on entering payment information. Taking things a step further, Drupal’s theme layer may be leveraged to create custom landing pages with CSS. Thoughtful consideration into the design and user interface may produce attractive Cart and Checkout buttons and accentuate the look of your store. The end result will be a boost to conversions.

Payment Options

Between Commerce and Ubercart, the latter is certainly the more talented when it comes to the variety of accepted payments. The most recent build of Commerce includes the payment plugins of PayPal, Authorize.net, eWay or C.O.D. You also may integrate your own. On the other hand, Ubercart includes the the aforementioned methods and more (plus Google Checkout). It's worth noting that directly linking major bank information is not available for major credit and debit card payments. For online transactions, third-party systems will typically act as the middle man between accounts. All things considered, creating a multitude of viable payment options provides consumers with greater choice and flexibility in moving forward with a purchase.

Another recommended practice is to feature relevant or hot products as customers move closer to checkout. This process is known as upselling and cross-selling. The key moduleViews can be used to achieve this goal. Product association through Views is a prime way to beef up your selling power and keep customers engaged.

Creating a Commerce Culture

One final consideration is giving your store a solid footing in the social sphere. Achieving this goal is as simple as releasing newsletters and posting deals/announcements across your site’s social media pages. Promoting your latest offering or newest products will generate interest and yield positive results. Customers will also be more apt to share these deals with their friends and networks, building a healthy ‘ecosystem of commerce’ in the process. Enabling individual bookmarking utilities on selected nodes for active linking is highly effective. Also, applying the ShareThis module may help work wonders.

We've covered some key best practices when it comes to building a successful Drupal e-commerce site to keep your customers happy. No exact formula exists for the perfect online store. Trust your instincts in terms of building a store online that speaks to your company's brand and messaging. Consistency between offline and online messaging is helpful. In terms of core technology needs, users will find that Drupal has the flexibility to adapt to the needs of your business and achieve any functionality requirement.