The eCommerce Catalog is Dead
I am a prolific on-line shopper. I’m not trying to brag… but I have spent countless hours perusing online shops, from makeup to shoes to furniture to everything Amazon has to offer, especially during the pandemic. And I will bounce off a site with lightning speed if I cannot find what I’m looking for, or if the site makes it difficult to find and purchase my desired item. What offenses are these sites committing that make me shut down my browser, or head to a competitor?
A few examples: Quickly finding something in the size and color I’m looking for on the ‘virtual’ sale rack. Perhaps I’m not the only one who has had this experience, trying to identify what’s on sale in your size only to have the page cluttered with items that are your size but not on sale.
Or worse yet, when you are redecorating and go to a furniture site that has a ‘shop the room’ page, yet when you click on one of the products you are not taken to that style and color, but rather the generic product page. There you must sift through every color/fabric option to find what was promoted on that shop the look page. Shop the look, indeed… more like hunt for the look!
Most of these merchandizing no-no’s are a result of the commerce platform’s rigid catalog structure, that has brands adhering to what the technology dictates - rather than the platform supporting the ability for merchandizers to create the site experiences their customers want and need.
I first began my career in eCommerce at the start of the 2000’s. Back then, most organizations would create their product catalog by pushing the structure directly out of their ERP. Commerce Catalogs were built to support this type of rigid structure.
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However, most ERPs (then and now) are not built to support the experiences customers need and want, they are built to support internal business processes. And yet, in the many years that have transpired since then, that rigid catalog structure has not changed in virtually all commerce platforms.
So, what have organizations done to mitigate this problem. Exactly that: they’ve created workarounds, complex integrations, data replication, etc. When an organization wants to adapt their product experiences based on, let’s say, a new product offering, a flash sale, or any kind of merchandizing change, all those workarounds must be addressed. This results in a delay in getting those new experiences out to customers, affecting the ability to generate revenue.
Elastic Path has an alternative to this antiquated, rigid approach to product catalogs. Rather than accept that there is only one approach to managing a catalog, as other platforms do, Elastic Path has decomposed all the parts that make up a product and catalog experience, allowing our customers to create product and merchandizing experiences easily and efficiently, when they want and how they want, without relying on any complex workarounds to make it happen.
How are we able to do this? Each component of the catalog has been isolated into its own set of microservices, that can be managed separately. Merchandizers can create any combination of products they want into a flexible set of hierarchies. Price lists are managed separately from the product, so again, merchandizers can create multiple pricing strategies (to support loyalty pricing, for example). Then, with just a few clicks, a catalog experience can be ‘composed’ by choosing the hierarchies and price lists that the merchandizer wants to make available for their targeted customers.
Do you want to offer a new product range to your best customers first?
Create a loyalty hierarchy with those products, assign it to your loyalty catalog (alongside your standard categories). Then, simply apply your loyalty rule, and in just a few clicks, your best customers will have access to those new products.
Do you want to separate just a few size/color combinations from the master style into your sale category, without having to copy and/or remove them from their main category?
Easily done with just a few clicks (and no calls to IT!). Open your sale category, assign those select SKUs, and republish! Now your customers can easily find the products they want without having to sift through products that are not relevant to them. This ability to separate a ‘child’ product from its ‘parent’ is often a challenge and is typically solved with workarounds or another technology.
Remember that shop the look example? Doing this well is all about merchandizing the individual SKUs separate from their parent product. The possibilities are truly, quite endless once you have the flexibility to work with each individual component of the catalog separately!
My frustration as a shopper is somewhat born out of my experience with eCommerce platforms. I understand why some of the experiences I have online are the way they are. I’ve worked with many customers who have convoluted product data management practices, created so that merchandizers can create the experiences they want.
I’ve worked with customers who have tried to overlay other technologies on top of their commerce catalog to enable a better experience for shoppers. And I am not the only one. This collective experience, both with platforms and with our own shopping experiences, is what has inspired our product innovation team at Elastic Path to develop the world’s first truly Composable Catalog.