5 minute read

How to Manage Campuswide E-Commerce in a Single Platform

7/9/2024 9:00 AM

A modern e-commerce system is useful for virtually any department, office, or group on campus, and can connect with off-campus and third-party vendors. With it, you can more easily conduct a range of business to generate revenue beyond tuition, such as payments for goods, services, registrations, deposits, donations, ticketing, and more.

E-commerce solutions work to automate, streamline, and customize the processes involved in offering items for purchase online, from developing websites and taking payments to managing inventory, fulfilling orders, and more. Aligning your e-commerce into a single system, and having everyone on or connected to your institution use that system, is a best practice. Called a platform approach, this strategy will significantly help your organization in many ways.

When transactions are not all on a single platform, a campus can become a maze of systems, standards, and processes that leads to problems with payments security, payments fraud, chargeback fiascos, accounting errors, and regulatory non-compliance.

Get buy-in for platform approach

The first step in managing campuswide e-commerce in a single platform is getting buy-in from campus administration to establish a policy requiring all payments to happen in a single platform. Simple to say but not easy to do, the policy is essential.

Next, determine which campus stakeholders are involved in evaluating and selecting an e-commerce solution. Related important decisions are who bears the cost of the solution, as well as e-commerce site creation and maintenance fees, merchant fees, and other associated costs.

Confer with counsel on regulations and standards

Ensure you understand the policies and laws that apply to conducting e-commerce at your institution, from institutional rules to state, regional, federal, and international regulations and standards. Talk to your institution’s legal counsel to develop e-commerce policies regarding payments, accounting, data privacy, website accessibility, and other issues. Also, consult with industry regulators, organizations, and experts to gain their knowledge and stay aware of the evolution of e-commerce practices.

Shape administration to fit your institution

There are multiple ways to approach administering your e-commerce platform. Which processes will be centralized, and to what extent, are key issues to figure out. Choosing which office will handle central administration is important, and whether the work is done by an individual or a team.

Set the balance of delegation and support that fits your institution’s resources and priorities. For instance, website development may be the responsibility of each office or group conducting e-commerce, but with final approval for going live and taking payments decided by a central administrator. Also, have a process for working with vendors who already have an online store and just need a secure payment page integrated with your system.

Build a model to build awareness

If they can see it, they will believe it, so build a great example of an e-commerce site with a fully operational back-end to show off to your campus. Engage with your marketing and communications staff on branding the site and overall design principles. Test it and put it into regular use before sharing with others.

Use internal communications to spread awareness about e-commerce capabilities and provide demonstrations to those interested in it. E-commerce solutions can handle an impressive range of use cases, so highlight this strength to offices and groups taking non-tuition payments. You can also search your institution’s website and activities calendar for groups and events that already take payments, or could with a little help, and reach out to them to join the platform.

Talk with off-campus and third-party vendors that could use your e-commerce system to provide their goods and services. Work closely with them to ensure they meet the technical and legal requirements to conduct e-commerce with your institution and within your system.

Set processes for new sites

Provide a form for offices and groups to request to join the platform and start their e-commerce activity. Next, have procedures in place to onboard them to the system, such as setting up Merchant Identification Numbers (MIDs) and general ledger (G/L) codes.

To create new e-commerce sites, copy the storefront of your model site and then customize details to each group’s needs. This will not only save time and effort, but create a consistent “look and feel” for your institution’s sites and a consistent customer experience.

Benefits of a platform approach

Using a single, integrated platform to manage e-commerce processes across the institution can help reduce manual bookkeeping by automating reconciliation. All transactions are recorded into the system and posted to the general ledger.

With all payments in a single platform, you get the benefits of visibility into aggregated transactions. Data analysis can reveal trends in consumer behavior, irregularities to investigate, processes to improve, and more. These insights can make significant positive impacts on purchasers’ experiences and campus finances.

A platform approach to e-commerce also improves payment privacy, security, and compliance. Having all transactions go through a centralized process can ensure that institutional policies, payment industry standards, and other regulations are followed. This can help reduce the scope and complexity of PCI compliance, and can assist with fighting fraud. Plus, with one system following the same policies and conducting uniform processes, staff training becomes easier and customers encounter a consistent, quality experience in all transactions.

E-commerce platform delivers the best of both worlds

A platform approach to campuswide e-commerce provides the best of centralization and decentralization – offices have the freedom to manage their e-commerce and generate revenue for themselves, while institutions have the tools to oversee e-commerce and provide operations, finance, and security support.

With the right tool in hand, your institution can conduct e-commerce smoothly and securely, and seize the many opportunities available to higher ed campuses to create more revenue streams from everyday activities.

Watch this video to hear how TouchNet can support your institution with an e-commerce solution and a platform approach.