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Aug 17, 2023 | 6 minute read

The Unplatform: How to Supercharge Your Product Catalog without Replatforming

written by Bryan House

There’s a longstanding belief that if you want to change your commerce product catalog, you’re probably signing up for a full-on replatform. The reason? Catalogs are often tightly intertwined with how the commerce platform works overall. In a monolith, the catalog is tightly coupled with promotions, cart, product information management (PIM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and order management systems (OMS). Unwinding this mess is complex and error-prone.

However, supercharging your product catalog doesn’t have to involve a replatform.

Many brands struggle with rigid, inflexible product catalog management systems that make it nearly impossible to create dynamic product bundles, build shoppable landing pages, and respond quickly to market opportunities. Using Elastic Path Product Experience Manager it’s possible to execute on unique product merchandising opportunities without custom development work or replatforming by Unplatforming.

The Unplatform is a commerce architecture that builds on the foundations of composable commerce but goes further to make composable accessible for all with independent products and a connective framework that simplifies composition. It gives brands the freedom to choose the technology that meets their unique requirements and to start small with initiative-driven projects, then expand over time. Unplatforming means you can begin to innovate specific aspects of your architecture without disrupting everything. And, over time, continue to innovate as your business requires.

Let’s talk about why a flexible product catalog management experience matters, and how you can tap into its benefits without a full rip & replace commerce project.

Merchandising every moment

At the heart of many frustrating commerce interactions is a broken catalog experience. Or as my colleague Julie Mall put it, “The eCommerce catalog is dead.” If you’ve ever tried to buy something from a “shop the look” page, only to have to search through endless size and color options, you’ve felt this pain. Just recently, I visited two separate landing pages from a brand collaboration to discover that sizes were fully sold out on one brand’s page, but available on the other. These types of catalog configuration and data integration issues shouldn’t be happening in 2023 — but they do all the time!

Even so, brands want to take advantage of all of their merchandising and distribution options. It’s the secret to responding to a moment in time for a campaign, creating a unique product bundle or collaboration, or experimenting with a new marketing or advertising channel. Rigid catalogs stand in the way of progress, and the perceived pain of replatforming is holding brands back from making any changes.

That’s why we built Product Experience Manager to work with existing commerce systems, enabling brands to launch all kinds of creative catalog configurations without custom code. Let’s take a look at how we do this.

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How Product Experience Manager works with existing commerce platforms

Unlike the traditional commerce catalog, Product Experience Manager can output “finished products,” which can then be ingested into a traditional catalog system. This happens the same way a catalog system might add products from a PIM or ERP, only Product Experience Manager would serve as the product data source. That way, merchandising and brand teams can work in Product Experience Manager to build bundles and SKUs to increase average order value, quickly move excess inventory, and help their customers assemble multiple products into a single package. From there, these teams can push these bundles through their existing commerce system to be sold like any other product.

In the past, it was very hard to do things like product bundling effectively without a lot of custom development work. I was visiting a snowboard website recently and was struck by an obvious bundle opportunity — a snowboard requires bindings, the rider often is buying boots at the same time, and there are multiple upsell opportunities including gloves, hats, and jackets. In today’s eCommerce experiences, the best a visitor might get are recommendations such as “people also purchased,” “shop compatible gear,” or “designed to work together.” While these offer visitors flexibility, they also push the burden of packaging multiple options to the visitor — introducing friction into the purchase process and resulting in abandoned carts from someone who was a high intent buyer.

Tightly coupled catalog architectures have been a major barrier for brands to offer bundles, which leaves a missed opportunity to generate incremental revenue on the table. With EP PXM, all of the capabilities required to build bundles are built from the ground up as decoupled, independent services to give merchandisers incredible flexibility. And all of the capabilities are delivered out of the box, eliminating the need for custom development work or off-platform CloudOps to manage custom code.

Another option would be to create influencer-focused landing pages that only exist for a moment in time. For example, brands often want to work with an athlete or an influencer to capitalize on a big win or a viral moment. Using Product Experience Manager, pre-approved brand assets, and a simple development front end, they can quickly spin up a new landing page with a custom product bundle, processing transactions through their existing commerce system. In the past, many brands haven’t been able to move quickly enough to respond to these moments, due to the custom development required to launch this type of campaign.

Building the case for Unplatforming

Some companies need to see Product Experience Manager to believe how it empowers their merchandising and marketing teams to move faster. Seeing Product Experience Manager in action is often enough inspiration to Unplatform in favor of a more nimble, API-first composable commerce approach.

Like any modern, agile software development project, you can test a product catalog-focused campaign, and learn enough to drive toward a future Unplatform. Over time, the merchandising team can solve their business problems, without grinding progress to a halt due to an expensive and disruptive replatforming process.

Instead, a brand might choose to Unplatform with a single market or product line, continually testing and learning from each experience. I recently wrote about how to break up with your commerce monolith, describing this “start small” pattern in more detail. I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in transitioning to Composable Commerce without the pain of replatforming all at once.