Product Catalogs… And no, not the IKEA Catalog you can take home!

After a brief discussion about the architecture of hybris, the best transition to talk about ecommerce (or even omni-commerce, which hybris is a proven leader) is to discuss the most basic component of 1s and 0s.  OK OK maybe not THAT basic, besides that is machine code and we are not coders here. What I am talking about is Products! Who doesn’t love products? They are something tangible and I am not just talking about the green dough, err revenue you stuff under the mattress, err, saving in fine banking institutions. They give your channels substance, attract customers and other businesses alike.  In this series we will talk about hybris successful methodologies and tools used to manage the store products. It all begins of course with how products are organized, which hybris has 3 key methods:

  • Catalogs
  • Categories
  • Classification Systems

Above are such large topics, that it be too much to cover in a single article, so I am going to break it up into a series of separate articles.

Product Catalogs… And no, I’m not the IKEA Catalog at home catalogs!

Not sure about you, but when I first saw the term Catalog when I was introduced to hybris concepts, first thing I though about was the enjoyable IKEA catalogs you grab at IKEA stores in US –

IkeaCatalog

A physical booklet you flip through and your imagination goes wild as it shows their products at use, in real world settings. Also what comes to mind is the more archaic department store catalogs, best example is the old Sears catalogs, hundreds of pages of just simple product listings. But hybris Catalogs are so much more, powerful that is.

Product Catalogs (referred to as Catalogs moving forward for simplicity) is (an) extension (scratch that, let me be careful with my terminology as extension refers to another feature within hybris) part of the Content segment of the hybris Commerce Suite and provides the means to hold the structure (categories) and product information (Typing and Dynamic Classification) of products in your store.

NOTE: It should be known that there is actually two types of Catalogs in hybris, Product and Content. Content refers to the actual pages of the web site, we will return to this in a later discussion.

Catalogs are a way to segment (or not) your store products for improved management both by various teams but even suppliers. Catalogs actually come in 2 flavors: Catalog and Catalog Version. Catalog is the larger of the two and can contain 1 or more Catalog Versions.

Wait… what???? I’m lost…

Let’s take a step back and focus on the general concept of Catalog first. Catalog is simply a container of products. The source of these products could be by one of these methods:

  • Direct Creation: Simplest of forms where appropriate user role creates new products directly in the catalog.
  • Import from external source: Using an existing ERP, or CSV, or… you can import product content from an outside location to build your catalog.
  • Catalog Synchronization: Feed (or synchronize in hybris terms) products from another Catalog.

Method 1 and 2 makes sense but what cases would you ever feed your catalog from ANOTHER catalog? Let’s look at a couple simple cases, as provided by hybris wiki page Managing Multiple Product Catalogs in a Catalog System.

Multiple Suppliers

In this example, we have a store which we receive products from a few key suppliers. Suppliers are those who are the SMEs of a given product, commonly having established product details and images. Why not have them transfer their knowledge directly to save valuable time and money? In this example, we want a given supplier to have access to the catalog, but only view and manage their products alone. As a result, we will create a separate catalog for each Supplier, guaranteeing their access to a sub-set of products only.

catalogsimple

Now that we have individual sub-set of catalogs, we need to merge them into a single master catalog to display in our web store. With hybris, we can perform a synchronization to feed all 3 supplier catalogs into one single master catalog:

catalogsimple with master

This is an example of where we merge multiple catalogs into one. Another method is to perform a complete overwrite as described below.

Seasonal Product Lines

If you are a clothing retail, your product offerings are commonly driven based on Seasons, for example, the product line you supply in the Summer, is different from product line you would offer in Winter (unless of course you live on the equator or in North/South Pole :-)). Dropping those statistical anomalies, think of the above image we used for different suppliers but instead of Supplier A, B and C, replace them with Summer, Fall and Winter. This method allows the Content Administrators ability to prepare their entire season catalog well in advance and independently from the existing environment, then, when time is right, perform a complete relaunch of their Master Catalog with the new season.

Both is just simple examples of how you can breakdown your catalogs into smaller segments and feed into a larger single catalog. But this does not mean you can’t go the other way as well.  What if you are running your ecommerce across multiple countries with different layouts based on region specific shopping behavior? You could have a single Master Catalog where you control the product data such as images and product data points, then have it sync out to smaller country specific catalogs where you manage pricing and promotions specific to that country.

But what if what I am working on is just a work in progress, and I am not ready for other catalogs to consume it, let alone display on my web store (or other channels)? That is where the second half of catalogs come in, Catalog Versions.

Catalog Versions are contained within Catalogs, with 2 key types: Staged and Online. Simply put, Staged represents something that is work in progress while Online represents published products. A Catalog can contain one or more staged catalogs, but no more than one online catalog can be contained in any given Catalog.

Let’s come back to our original simple example of multiple suppliers. As you remember, each supplier had their own Catalog that fed into a Master Catalog. In this case, each Supplier has a single Catalog Version of type Staged, that feeds into the Staged Catalog Version in Master Catalog, and Master Catalog has a secondary Catalog Version called Online:

CatalogVersion

Focusing on Master, we see there are 2 Catalog Versions, Staged and Online. This allows data that comes from the supplier to be fed into the Staged Catalog Version (not visible to actual end-customer) and allows the store administrator verify content, add prices and promotions to the product, then perform the final sync of approved products to the final Online Catalog Version for end-customer consumption.

You can also have multiple Catalog Versions of type Staged in the same Catalog. An example of such logic is if you have a different import source for each type of product information (such as one source imports images, another source contains product description and final import manages product pricing), as imports are not always perfect, you want to first import into individual Catalog Versions then merge the data into a final staged master Catalog, as shown in the below visual from hybris wiki page, About Synchronizing Catalog Versions.

MultiStagedSync

Putting it all together (Catalogs feeding into catalogs using Catalog Versions, and imports from multiple sources) can create a wealth of opportunities to control the scope and flow of work, but can also get very complex fast as shown in example below:

CompleteScopeforCatalogs

For more information about Catalogs, Catalog Versions and Synchronization methods, I suggest reviewing the section Catalog Module – End User Guide, in the extensive hybris Wiki.

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