June 14th, 2022 | 6 MIN READ

What Is a Catalog Hot Swap & Why It Matters

Written by Pranav Bahadur

Pranav Bahadur is a Product Marketing Manager at Elastic Path living in the Boston area.

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Have your ambitious merchandising plans, including new product launches, flash sales, or powering innovative product experiences like “shop-the-looks”, been hindered by your existing commerce solution? We often hear that brands struggle with heavy customization and high costs, just to build and launch the experiences their customers expect. Typically, the root cause of their woes is the rigid catalog capability in their turn of the century commerce platform.

At Elastic Path, we’ve re-imagined product and catalog management capabilities so that they support merchandisers, instead of holding them back. EP Product Experience Manager (PXM), is a one-stop-shop for merchandisers who need to rapidly design and launch the product experiences that customers expect. EP PXM leverages a totally decoupled architecture where products, price books, hierarchies, and catalogs are all independent, giving merchandisers ultimate flexibility.

According to Gartner, "for channels that are long-term strategic investments, manual processes will eventually become insufficient. Instead, companies should invest in more robust product experience management (PXM) solutions, which represent an evolution beyond traditional PIM systems." To learn more, read the full report here.

One core capability within EP PXM is Catalog Composer. In this blog post we will focus on Catalog Composer, and specifically “catalog hot swaps”. Catalog hot swaps are a quick and easy way to switch catalogs (product assortments and prices) that allow your merchandising team to test and deliver unique customer experiences across channels, touchpoints, and geographies. Before we dive into the details, let’s take a look at hot swaps in action.

Struggling to Maximize your Sales with A Traditional Catalog

Before we cover how hot swapping a catalog can help achieve your commerce goals, it's essential to realize the drawbacks of a traditional catalog. The issues stemming from the rigidity of conventional catalogs are often overlooked. Merchandisers have grown accustomed to the slow time to market and heavy reliance on their IT teams to implement workarounds so they can manage sales, set promotional pricing, and create bespoke catalogs with a subset of products for a time-bound event.

When these workarounds are achieved, the high cost of implementation eats away at the success of merchandising strategies. In cases like a pop-up microsite or managing multiple brands, the costs are even higher since merchandisers need to work in numerous instances of their commerce solution. This proves to be an arduous manual task for merchandizers with unneeded data replication, duplicate catalogs, and countless hours spent setting up custom promotions to change prices because there is no easy way to assign multiple prices to the same product.

In a nutshell, these turn-of-the-century catalogs capabilities were not developed to support the merchandising needs of today. Without the ability to manage hundreds of variations, change product hierarchies on the fly, or set multiple price points, they are not equipped to achieve the complex merchandising strategies that are now essential for success. You can learn more about the sad state of catalog management in this blog.

Catalog Hot Swaps Offer a Better Solution

First, let’s level set on what “catalog” refers to for Elastic Path users. A catalog is a collection of products (also known as a hierarchy) composed together with a pricebook to create a product offer for specific use cases (brands, geographies, B2B accounts, etc.).

With catalog hot swaps, merchandisers can quickly change the catalog being served to customers to ensure they deliver a revenue-generating experience in line with today's expectations. Let's look at a few typical cases that would be difficult on old catalog architecture but are easy for your merchandising team to deliver with hot swaps.

1) Flash Sales: For a defined sale period (think back-to-school or holiday sales), merchandisers can swap out the catalog used in a storefront. That includes a full-scale change to what products are listed and their sale prices. With a modern de-coupled catalog architecture, a merchandiser will only need to set up a different price book for products already in your commerce catalog. Unlike the rigid catalogs of old that only allow a single base price associated with an individual product, there is no need to duplicate the products to set a sale price.

 

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2) Test New Go-to-Market Strategies: Equipped with a commerce solution that can set individual price points for multiple channels, touchpoints, and geographies from a single instance, your merchandising team can test a new price point in a specific country or region to gauge its effectiveness first.

Similarly, trying a new channel like subscriptions with a curated catalog and separate pricing can open new revenue streams for your brand. Through these controlled tests, you can confirm and optimize new strategies without needing to bet your brand's future on them.

3) Curate Front-end Experiences: Typically, a front-end experience relies on the hierarchies set up in your product catalog. Even with some more modern API-first commerce platforms, hierarchies are set in stone once established. In the example of a clothing store, if you were to set up hierarchies that start with tops and bottoms, you would be unable to readjust them into athleisure, formal, and casual.

For a customer looking to buy wedding attire, this context is crucial to creating a standout experience. As the context in which a customer shop continues to become an essential characteristic of success in today's digital commerce, having the freedom to hot swap into a new context relevant to your customers is crucial.

4) Bespoke Catalogs for Specific Segments: Customer loyalty is another aspect that is increasingly important in today's eCommerce. Maintaining a premier experience for your loyalty customers with specialized pricing, early access to new products, etc., is crucial in driving a revenue-generating loyalty program.

Hot swapping to a specifically curated catalog and special pricing works for these loyal customers or even for a particular account in a B2B setting, enabling your merchandisers to strengthen the customer relationships that are key to your success.

Not All Catalogs Were Created Equally

To leverage catalog hot swaps effectively, your commerce platform must allow your merchandisers to set up an unlimited number of catalogs and price books from the same instance of your commerce platform. EP PXM offers just that, along with an intuitive and easy-to-manage UI that frees your merchandisers to deploy complex strategies to create standout customer experiences quickly.

Learn more about EP PXM here or chat with us today to see how Elastic Path can help set up your merchandisers for success.

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