Keeping purchase costs down — and more

Editor’s note: This article profiles the services of Amazon Business, a corporate partner of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Matt Busbridge is often asked what’s the difference between Amazon Business and the typical commodities supplier that community colleges may use.

“It’s an important distinction because we are quite different,” says the head of higher education at Amazon Business.

The biggest difference is instead of buying items for the same prices on a multiyear contract, which is the traditional way of procuring items in higher education, a college can buy items via a competitive store — much like consumers use Amazon.com — which allows teachers, staff members and others to purchase books, pens, keyboards and other supplies and goods at the lowest price possible at the time.

A second major difference is Amazon Business’ ability to fulfill orders quickly, sometimes in two days and even the same day.

“Our goal is to empower college staff and faculty to get what they need to teach their students, and get those products quickly and at the lowest possible price,” says Busbridge, who will participate in a session on higher education purchasing at the AACC annual convention April 13-16 in Orlando, Florida.

How it works

It’s free to create an Amazon Business account. Typically at a community college, the central procurement group creates a business account and invites faculty and staff into that account, allowing them to make purchases for their jobs. A college can opt to purchase Business Prime, which has benefits a college needs – like spending analytics and data-rich reports, and provides two-day shipping and sometimes next-day or same-day shipping on Prime-eligible purchases.

Although the system allows for several approved purchasers to buy what they need, the college’s procurement team can develop an approval workflow to monitor purchases. Amazon Business also has a team of customer advisors ready to help community colleges use their account effectively based on the college’s needs and guidelines and a dedicated customer service team to help ensure order and delivery issues are resolved quickly.

Using customer feedback

Amazon business has worked with community colleges since it launched in 2015, Busbridge says. It serves about 80 percent of the largest higher education institutions in the country, many of which are community colleges, such as Ivy Tech Community College, a state system in Indiana, and Valencia College in Orlando, Florida. (Valencia’s managing director of procurement also will participate in the convention session.)

To continually improve its services, Amazon Business listens to what its customers want, Busbridge says.

Working with community colleges “helped us to understand what we needed to develop and improve to facilitate the use of Amazon Business on campus,” he says.

Some of the features as a result of feedback include the ability to make purchases under a college’s tax-exempt status, and the use of purchase orders, which are common at community colleges. Amazon Business also has built features to help community colleges and other higher education institutions, especially publicly funded ones, stay in compliance with state rules.  For example, Amazon’s Related Offers Report can now reduce the time it takes for faculty and staff to research multiple quotes by automating the capture and storage of competing offers on Amazon Business centrally.

“These are a few examples of feedback that community colleges customers have told us they needed, and we developed directly because of listening to our customers,” Busbridge says.

Another benefit is “Guided Buying”: Amazon Business allows colleges to purchase from preferred suppliers, which can include local businesses or minority-, women- or veteran-owned small businesses. That’s become increasingly important for colleges, so the service gives clients the ability to search based on those credentials to make purchases, Busbridge says. The same feature can help restrict the use of Amazon Business for contracted categories.

“Each institution has a different set of goals, whether it’s purchasing from those businesses, reducing cost overall, or ensuring they are compliant with state requirements, Amazon Business is being built to address all of those,” he says.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.