Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 Explained by Ryan Donovan
In October 2017, we attended Sitecore’s four-day annual global user event, Sitecore Symposium 2017 that took place in Las Vegas. The event was packed with both current and anticipated product announcements. To discuss the new announcements and the roadmap of the platform in depth from a product standpoint, I sat down with Ryan Donovan, Executive Vice President of Product Management at Sitecore, at the event. During our conversation, he told me that the release of Sitecore Commerce 9 was expected to be announced at NRF and characterized that release as “an initial completion of Sitecore’s vision of how a modern commerce platform should be.” As Sitecore promised, today, Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 was announced at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show. According to the vendor, the latest version of Sitecore’s commerce solution is the only cloud-enabled platform that natively integrates content and commerce.
This upgrade is considered as the end of an era because with Sitecore Experience Commerce 9, which is built on the latest ASP.NET Core 2.0 technology, all the legacy parts of Commerce Server are gone. Now that the platform has absolutely no legacy technology in it and no ties to Commerce Server whatsoever, the new version will provide extreme flexibility and extensibility, according to Sitecore. This flexibility and extensibility will enable Sitecore developers to build their own plug-ins, or leverage third-party plug-ins for added customer benefit. I also believe that this evolutionary move will ease the pain, especially for people who are not very familiar with both Commerce Server and Sitecore Commerce.
Ryan Donovan Explains the Ins and Outs of Sitecore Experience Commerce 9
To get an inside scoop on what trends and challenges Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 will address and more, once again, I reached out to Ryan Donovan. Here’s an exclusive CMS-Connected interview:
What trends or challenges will Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 address for current Sitecore customers?
Donovan: "In terms of challenges, we are able to help merchandisers and marketers integrate shopping experiences with the support of online-to offline (O2O) where shoppers can order online and pick up in store.
The improvements to our inventory tool helps brands manage their typical inventory tasks with multi-store, multi-warehouse, multi-site and multi-currency inventory as well as shipment tracking, reservation per inventory bin, send notifications of expiry and inventory thresholds. Current Sitecore customers were limited to only one warehouse or store so this is a notable improvement to our inventory tool.
We also simplified the catalog experience for business users. It doesn’t matter what you sell, there are a set of standard definitions most brands will have, such as a product name, SKU, list price, etc. so we simplified the default catalog view to save brands time and effort in creating a view from scratch. If business users want to add or remove definitions they can easily modify their view, we are just providing a starting point. We also introduced the notion of a sellable item – it could be a physical product or an entitlement, such as a warranty or gift card. "
What are the key benefits of the new release? What makes it a milestone in the Sitecore Commerce history?
Donovan: "XC9 is now fully built on ASP.NET Core, the very latest Microsoft framework providing a more flexible, extensible and scalable platform. The compositionally extensibility of our product is a benefit for our partners in this release where they can extend our business tools, and recieve faster, safer ‘in-place’ upgrades which is a real key change in this release.
We also improved TTM with our new SXA Storefront. The SXA Storefront accelerates the development and deployment of storefronts through Azure marketplaces and on-premises. It includes 40+ commerce specific components that can be dragged and dropped onto a web page without requiring IT resources. It also supports co-build support where the front-end website design can happen at the same time as back-end development, big time saver. Also the front-end developers don’t need to know the underpinnings of the technology in order to work on the website design.
We have a new unified, simplified and faster user-friendly business tool. Our business tools – Inventory, Catalog, Pricing, Promotion, Orders and Customer management are found in one view so merchandisers/marketers can easily navigate. Our business tool supports role based security as well so business users only have access to/see tools they use.
Lastly, this release has opt-in complexity. We allow simple down-market hosted solutions to complex global enterprise solutions without modifying the core architecture."
In my view, if personalization isn’t done at the individual level, it shouldn’t really be considered so. With this in mind, how will the new version help marketers and merchandisers bridge the gap between commerce and content?
Donovan: "This release takes customer segmentation a layer deeper, to the individual level. We are providing marketers and merchandisers with accurate data and insights that helps them deliver relevant products, promotions, offers, content in context of the individuals shopping experiences across all channels and sessions over time in real time."
What Will Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 Bring?
The installation of the new commerce engine has also been simplified, meaning customers will be able to utilize Commerce 9 on Azure PAAS and take advantage of standard Azure tooling, High Availability, Disaster Recovery, and so on. On top of all these, here are some significant capabilities of Sitecore Experience Commerce 9:
Faster time to market: Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA) Storefront includes 40+ commerce-specific components that can be dragged and dropped onto a page, meaning brands now can accelerate development and deployment of e-commerce storefronts through either Microsoft Azure PaaS or on-premises installations.
Inventory management: Includes support for online-to-offline commerce via allocations; ability to manage multi-store, multi-warehouse, and multi-site inventories; track shipments; support multiple currencies; and notify users of expiring or sufficient inventory thresholds.
Catalog management: Incorporates a user-friendly catalog experience that encompasses new features such as a global product list and a new generalized default schema.
New user-generated content integration: The Stackla for Sitecore UGC Connector provides an unmatched integration with Sitecore Experience Commerce, allowing brands to dynamically display user-generated content across web content, e-commerce sites, and beyond.
Flexible deployment and licensing options: Sitecore Experience Commerce 9 supports Azure PaaS, IaaS, or on-premise deployments and is available through subscription or perpetual licenses.
Secure and scalable deployment: Sitecore and technology service provider Rackspace have partnered to deliver best-in-class commerce managed cloud services. Sitecore Experience Commerce customers can now benefit from Rackspace’s optimized, secure, and scalable cloud infrastructure—as well as their industry-acclaimed choice of support and services, responsiveness, and expertise in e-commerce.
Now that the Legacy System is gone, some could wonder about upgrading the old system. How will existing Sitecore users move the Catalogs, Profiles, Orders and Inventory data from Commerce Server to Sitecore Commerce 9? To put those concerns to rest, Sitecore also rolled out two new migration tools that allow legacy Commerce Server users to import catalogs and customer profiles from any other source and automatically convert them for use in Sitecore Experience Commerce.
During our conversation at the Sitecore Symposium, Donovan also indicated that with Version 9, they built next-generation user experiences based on a lot of lessons learned from the digital marketers who have worked with Version 8. Therefore, these newly announced next-generation user experiences are reflected upon years of usability research and a fresh approach to address the usability needs of digital marketers and merchandisers, according to Donovan. To learn more about the strategy behind the Version 9, here’s our video interview filmed at Sitecore Symposium 2017 in Vegas:
Where is Sitecore Commerce Heading to?
Sitecore Commerce 9 is obviously a milestone in the history of the product but what is waiting for the Sitecore community after this point? During the Symposium, Sitecore made its product roadmap very clear. Following the new release, this year, Sitecore will introduce many more new capabilities that include:
Components and functionality to support B2B
Support for different payment providers
Support for tax providers
Support for shipping providers
Forms based on Sitecore forms
With the release of Commerce 9, all three components of Sitecore Experience Cloud now have been upgraded, which is Sitecore’s umbrella brand for Sitecore Experience Manager (web content management platform), Sitecore Experience Platform (digital marketing platform), and Sitecore Experience Commerce (digital commerce platform). Sitecore describes its latest product release as unlike any other product launch.
In fact, Terry Fortescue, Vice President, Product Marketing at Sitecore, commented before the Symposium: “Version 9 is not only a big launch, it is a turning point of Sitecore. It is our pivotal go-to-market strategy.”
For brands, personalization is still the biggest driver behind adopting many technologies. However, personalization is only as effective as the weakest channel throughout the customer journey. Marketers should get their hands on all the activities through the sales funnel, from initial browsing to final conversion. With all these in mind, what differentiates version 9 from the previous ones, in my view, is its strong commitment to empowering merchandisers and marketers to personalize the holistic digital experience. Sitecore is well-known for being very good at addressing the needs of developers and IT users, but with version 9, the vendor has signalled the market that their new focus will be on the data-driven business side of the things, while still keeping the technical folks happy.
Related Sitecore News: