As part of the Diamond and Platinum sponsorships for DrupalCon Portland, we've offered leaders at these sponsor companies the opportunity to guest blog on the Drupal Association site. In today's post, Robert Douglass of Commerce Guys takes a look at where Drupal is today, and the untapped opportunities for Drupal growth in e-commerce.

It's been 12 years since Drupal's debut and ten years since it made a splash supporting a U.S. Presidential campaign. Back then, Drupal was a bit player, one of literally thousands of CMS platforms contending for recognition. Now, nobody would start a CMS selection process without considering it. It just keeps getting bigger, in terms of both market share and the size of sites running it. In short, we've made it.

You, the Drupal professional, have benefitted from this growth. Demand for Drupal services helped you make it through the recession. You earn above-market average hourly rates and you haven’t had to invest heavily in sales and marketing to have enough work to do. But how long will that last? As Drupal becomes the de-facto standard for many governments, media sites, and higher education, the market will mature. We already see more Drupal service providers entering the market than ever before. How will you continue to grow your business?

Fortunately, there's an area where Drupal is uniquely well-suited, but still underexplored; where Drupal offers a complete, easy-to-sell solution; and where the market is huge - $225 billion in the US in 2012, and growing at 15% a year (PDF).

That next big thing for Drupal is eCommerce. And I believe it's something you can take advantage of right now, because Drupal offers something unique and valuable in the market: integration. While there are some great commerce packages out there, none of them is a natural extension to a content-management system, or vice-versa.

Here's an example of something that Drupal does easily, while competing packages need a Frankenstein-like approach. Let's say your site has a forum for product discussions, a place for each user to post blogs, an affiliate program, and a storefront. If you're not using Drupal, that's probably at least three separate systems: vBulletin, a CMS, and shopping-cart software.

Can you imagine how hard it is to integrate those systems? Even if you could make them look and feel alike — and that's assuming a lot — they'd still all have their own user directories and authentication systems, and little understanding of what was happening on the other systems. A tight integration just isn’t possible.

Now consider the Drupal solution. Each user is a blogger, forum member, affiliate, and shopper — you never have to sync them or plan to avoid conflicts. The blog and forum platforms are both core Drupal (or native add-ons like Advanced Forum). The affiliate program is Affiliate NG, and the shopping system is Drupal Commerce.

All parts of the unified Drupal-based system understand all activities. That means you can:

  • Give discounts to people who participate in discussions (with Userpoints), or to those who respond to a poll, or read a review;
  • Let users create their own subsites (using Organic Groups) to sell your products;
  • Use the storefront to sell access to premium content on the website itself;
  • Automatically compile product reviews and discussions as part of the relevant product's page;
  • Integrate affiliate sales with the storefront's inventory;
  • Recommend similar and popular products on content pages;
  • Show you what your friends have bought.

Much of the magic that ties all the parts together is found in the Rules and Views modules — two of the fundamental tools of Drupal Commerce (both are included in the Commerce Kickstart distribution.) As a Drupal professional, your understanding of Fields, Entities, and theming applies to Drupal Commerce from Day 1.

Almost none of this is as easy (or even possible) with other packages. For example, Magento has product reviews, but not polls, or the functionality of Userpoints and Rules. And nobody can match Organic Groups.

The final selling point for eCommerce on Drupal is its community. Some storefront packages have active communities, but none even come close to Drupal's size, depth, or breadth. Every week brings new enhancements, videos, and discussions — all free.

The best thing about the emergence of eCommerce is that the market will drive it. Everybody benefits from eCommerce features on their websites, no matter what the industry, and almost any site can make a case for offering something for sale. Government bodies can collect garbage fees, let you pay for parking tickets, or sell postage; nonprofit groups can accept donations; manufacturers can manage wholesale orders; schools can take tuition payments and sell branded merchandise.

Furthermore, there are an estimated 100,000 online merchants in the USA alone, most of whom use antiquated eCommerce software, and are all wondering how they’re going to harness the convergence of Content, Community, and Commerce, not to mention what to do about their mobile strategy. This is where Drupal really shines. You can walk up to any one of these merchants and make a case that Drupal is a better solution for the three C’s than whatever they’re currently using, and they get responsive design and the option of a mobile solution, out-of-the-box.

To capture this opportunity, you only need to extend your knowledge of Drupal a little. If you haven't already, download Commerce Kickstart, watch some videos, and learn from others. Then prepare for growth.

If you’re coming to DrupalCon Portland, be sure to check out the Commerce Village — a whole area of the tradeshow floor dedicated to eCommerce, including some of Commerce Guys’ top eCommerce partners.

Robert has been involved with Drupal since 2004. He wrote the first book published about Drupal and collaborated on the three editions of “Pro Drupal Development." A very proactive community builder, he led Drupal's involvement in the first Google “Summer of Code” program and has been a member of the Drupal Association General Assembly since 2006. He co-founded the German Drupal-Initiative in 2008 and joined Acquia as a consultant and advisor. Robert's largest code contributions to Drupal have come in the form of the Apache Solr module and the Memcache module, both of which were started in 2007. He joined Commerce Guys full time in 2012, after being on the company's advisory board since its inception.

Favorite Drupal Module: