Published on 2013/10/21

The Attraction of Online Shopping

The Attraction of Online Shopping
E-commerce solutions might provide higher education leaders with the key to success in this highly competitive marketplace.
Higher education has become an incredibly competitive industry. Combine the 6,900 accredited colleges and universities in the United States with new entrants to the marketplace (i.e. Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, providers or online international programs) and it’s easy to see where the competition is coming from. [1]

While there has been much debate on how to attract the dwindling numbers of high school students, there has been much less discussion focused on attracting adult students and corporate partners. To my mind, this is a more important issue. Corporations spend on average $485 billion a year on postsecondary training and development but, currently, little of this money goes to accredited higher education institutions. [2] Combine this market with the 9 million adults already enrolled in higher education and the 80 million potential adult enrollees, and you are left with a big opportunity. [3],[4]

If we are going to attract these students, we need to know more about them, more about how they think and more about how they shop. Here’s what I know:

Students are consumers

Although they must be treated like students in the classroom, students (especially non-traditional students) behave like consumers when selecting and enrolling in courses or programs. As seasoned and sophisticated shoppers, adult students expect their school to provide the same experience they have grown accustomed to for other purchases. As they would for any high-priced item, they search for an education provider using the Internet, expect immediate access to information and expect to interact and enroll on their own timeline.

Consumers like to make purchases online

A 2011 study found that, according to adult students, one of the most important services a college or university can offer is the ability for them to enroll in courses and pay tuition online. According to the study, “Institutions that are not offering these services are clearly behind the curve and will have trouble competing for the adult student market.” [5] This makes sense, considering that 78 percent of shoppers use the Internet to research and purchase products and services. [6] This segment of shoppers accounts for the $231-billion American e-commerce market — a market expected to grow by 13 percent this year alone. [7]

It’s not enough to just accept payments online

Consumers today are accustomed to the ‘Amazon experience’ and, while they don’t expect all the bells and whistles every time, they do expect to be able to easily access information in a seamless and intuitive manner. While this seems like a simple concept, 30 percent of consumers who leave a website without making a purchase do so because they were unable to successfully navigate through the website. [8] Of those who do successfully navigate a website, 87 percent are wary of providing personal and payment information online. [9]

What does this mean for attracting enrollments?

Technology has changed how consumers make purchases, especially large purchases. The sheer size of the American e-commerce market is clear proof. And if students see themselves as consumers, why shouldn’t higher education institutions get a slice of the pie?

There are certainly some challenges associated with implementing advanced e-commerce business processes. You need to consider everything from search engine optimization to navigation to personalization to security certifications. But all changes and innovation pose challenges, and a wise fisherman rarely turns down the chance to cast his line into a shoal of ravenous fish.

For more detail on how e-commerce processes can benefit higher education institutions please read Enhancing E-Commerce to Reach Market Potential.

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[1] U.S. Department of Education, “Accreditation in the United States,” U.S. Department of Education website,­cred/accreditation_pg4.html#Diploma-Mills.

[2] Anthony Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, June 2010, p. 2.

[3] Sally Dillow and Thomas Snyder, “Digest of Education Statistics 2010,” National Center for Education Statistics, 2011, p. 293.

[4] “Post-traditional Learners and the Transformation of Postsecondary Education: A Manifesto for College Leaders,” American Council on Education, 2013, p. 2.

[5] Carol Aslanian and Natalie Green Giles, “Hindsight, Insight, Foresight: Understanding Adult Learning Trends to Predict Future Opportunities,” Edu­cation Dynamics Market Research and Advisory Services, 2011, p. 8.

[6] Cisco, “Catch and Keep’ Digital Shoppers How To Deliver Retail Their Way (U.S. Survey Findings),” 2013, p. 1.

[7] Marc Babej, “Forrester: U.S. E-Commerce to Rise 13% This Year,” Forbes Magazine, March 2013, available from­cbabej/2013/03/13/forrester-u-s-e-commerce-to-rise-13-this-year.

[8] Srini Srinivasan, Rolph Anderson, and Kishore Ponnavolu, “Customer loyalty in e-commerce: an exploration of its antecedents and consequences,” Journal of Retailing 78 (1) 2002, p. 44.

[9] McAfee and Harris Interactive, “Shop Online with Confidence,” May 2009, p. 3.

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The Impact of Online Shopping on Higher Education

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Readers Comments

Francis Beyer 2013/10/21 at 11:06 am

Since so much of the transaction experience has moved online, it means the pre-purchase stage has also moved to the web. It’s important to consider marketing and positive word-of-mouth and build that into the online experience for student-consumers.

Heather Willis 2013/10/21 at 1:02 pm

I think this is a rather accurate profile of today’s consumer. Some of the more stubborn institutions still refuse to accept this, instead maintaining their image of the high school graduate reading university brochures as the prime consumers. It’ll be tough for them to attract students in this new higher education space.

Stephen Gotti 2013/10/22 at 12:50 pm

More and more, I hear of institutions partnering with external providers to develop e-business solutions. Many institutions don’t have the in-house expertise to develop effective e-commerce systems, and I think it would be a worthwhile investment for them to work with a third-party provider on this increasingly important endeavor.

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